What is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a fatty, wax-like substance which is produced in the liver and is found in your blood. It originates from either your diet or from liver production. Your liver can remove cholesterol from your bloodstream, but also, produce and secrete it into your blood circulation.
“The Good, The Bad & The Ugly” Cholesterol
Cholesterol is essential to our health. It is used in forming cell membranes and certain hormones, plus it also supplies other body functions. We need a small amount of cholesterol; however, high levels (hypercholesterolemia) can cause heart attack, stroke and other diseases.
Your total cholesterol is made up of both HDL “The Good” and LDL "The Bad & The Ugly".
- LDL (Low Density Lipoprotein) cholesterol is referred to as bad because it can build up in the wall of your arteries where it can form plaque. Over a period of time, plaque can cause your arteries to narrow which may restrict or block the blood flow to your heart, brain or other vital organs. Abnormally high LDL cholesterol is a major cause of coronary heart disease and stroke.
- HDL (High Density Lipoprotein) cholesterol is referred to as good because it can help prevent the bad cholesterol from building up in your arteries.
- Triglycerides are chains of high-energy fatty acids. They contribute most of the energy needed for cellular function. High levels of triglycerides have been associated with the progression of coronary heart disease.
- A diet high in fat, especially saturated fat and cholesterol
- Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid gland)
- Family history of cardiovascular disease
- Nephrosis (chronic kidney disease)
- Oral contraceptives usage
- Estrogen hormone replacement
- Excessive alcohol consumption
Symptoms & Warnings
- Most people DO NOT have any symptoms until the damage is quite extensive. Invasive procedures are then necessary, such as angioplasty, heart by-pass surgery or carotid artery surgery. This is why screening is so important. You do not want a heart attack or stroke to be the first sign of high cholesterol!
- Sometimes cholesterol can build up in the blood vessels of your heart and cause chest pain, commonly referred to as "angina".
- Women over the age of 55 tend to have higher cholesterol levels than men.
- A study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology reports the increase may be linked to menopause.
What can I do to lower my cholesterol?
- Follow the advice of your doctor
- Eat a diet that is low in fat, saturated fat and cholesterol.
- Exercise! Exercise is perhaps the most beneficial action you can take to improve your overall health. Work out for at least 30 minutes a day, 4 or 5 times a week. Consult your doctor before you start any exercise program.
How do I find out if I have high cholesterol?
A simple blood test called a complete lipid profile will give you the numbers you need to know. Once you have this information, you can discuss with your doctor an appropriate course of action to lower your cholesterol level. It may only require a simple lifestyle change, or for more severe cases, medication.