Fear About Cholesterol

Haven’t you seen a lot of people jogging in the park in the mornings? Most of them spoil their early morning sleep to get rid of some extra fat; some really do that due to their fear the cholesterol.

The word cholesterol originated from two Greek words, chole and stereos which means solid bile. The main sources of cholesterol is food containing animal fat, other food products do not have it or have only negligible amount. The greatest contributors being egg and meats like poultry, shrimp and beef. But unlike the popular belief, we require a certain amount of cholesterol in our diet. Cholesterol is required in our cell membranes for the normal function of the cells.

What is Cholesterol

The body is composed of a series of organ systems, each system with its corresponding organs with special functions, and organs are made up of tissues. Tissues are a collection of microscopic cells, and cells are the basic manifestation or unit of life. There are billions of cells within the human body, and not all are the same. There are specific tasks that the kinds of cells perform, whether for secretion, control, regulation, and maintenance of other body processes.

Taking a look into a cell, one can see that it is protected by an outer wall, called the cell membrane. This membrane allows the passage of needed substances like nutrients into the cell, and at the same time, waste materials are eliminated by passing through this membrane and into the bloodstream. Cholesterol is one of the components required for the building and maintenance of cell membranes. Even though scientists have identified cholesterol in solid forms in the gallstones, it was in 1815 a researcher named Eugene Chevreul called it ‘choleterine’. Cholesterol can be said as the chemical combination of steroid and alcohol. Cholesterol is a type of lipid or fatty acid substance that comprises the cell membranes of all the tissues and is transported through the blood plasma.

It can be found excessively in tissues that synthesize more or have closely packed membranes like liver, brain and spinal cord. Like all the lipids cholesterol is also not soluble in blood, but this does not mean that they are not transported in the main circulatory system. This is because the cholesterol is a kind of lipoprotein which has spherical particle with its exterior containing mainly of water soluble proteins.

Cholesterol is needed by the body in this regard, which is why we need to include oils and fats as part of a balanced diet, but in moderated amounts.

Cholesterol and Heart Disease

Even though cholesterol plays structural and functional roles for the cells and tissues of the human body, there may be health complications that can occur when too much cholesterol is present. For one thing, eating too much food that is high in fat and cholesterol is never beneficial for the body. Cholesterol and other fatty substances that are unburned by the body for energy end up as deposits. Most of the cholesterol builds up along the walls of blood vessels, like arteries and veins.

This cholesterol build-up may lead to a condition called hypercholesterolemia, which impedes normal blood flow from the arteries and veins. The constriction or narrowing of the diameter of blood vessels cause a rise in blood pressure, and at the same time, causes the heart to quicken its pace. This puts the person at risk for heart failure and possibly other more fatal conditions. As people age, the health state of their heart and blood vessels also deteriorate, and the inclusion of excessive cholesterol are not contributive to better cardiovascular health. Thus low cholesterol means lower heart disease risk.

LDL Cholesterol and HDL Cholesterol

Two types of proteins carry cholesterol to and from the liver; they are low density lipoprotein ’LDL’ and high density lipoprotein or the ‘HDL’. The abnormal proportions of LDL and HDL are associated with cardio vascular diseases and blocking of arteries. This development of blocking of arteries leads to myocardial infarction or the heart attacks. These diseases are caused by the increased LDL levels and thus it is called the bad cholesterol, while the HDL is called good cholesterol since it gives some amount of protection to this. The balance between these two cholesterols can be obtained by medication, regular exercises and a balanced diet.

Most of the cholesterol requirements of the body are synthesized in the liver or are consumed in the food. Even though liver is the main synthesizer of cholesterol, it is also produced in the reproductive organs, adrenal glands and the intestines in the form of LDL and is passed through the blood streams. For an average person the body content is about 35g and the dietary intake is about 300mg. while most of the cholesterol contents are absorbed and recycled by the intestine, the extra amount of cholesterol gets accumulated under the skin membrane. Once this quantity is increased, there will be excess flow of cholesterol in the blood streams. This increases the chance of blockage of arteries which can lead to a stroke or the heart attack. At an earlier stage it can be controlled by the biosynthesis using medications and regular exercises like running which increases the cholesterol consumption of the body.

Total Cholesterol Level

Total blood cholesterol level is the result one receives as the result of a cholesterol blood test. Cholesterol is measured in units of milligrams per deciliter of blood (mg/dL).

Level Risk
Less than 200 mg/dL This should be the normal cholesterol range. It's the desirable blood cholesterol level or healthy cholesterol. If your blood cholesterol level is less than 200mg/dL, it puts you at a relatively low risk of coronary heart disease. However, one should continue eating a healthy cholesterol free diet, exercise regularly and stay away from tobacco.
200–239 mg/dL If your blood cholesterol level is between 200- 239 mg/dL, you are at the borderline/high-risk category. At this stage, your LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol and triglycerides will be evaluated. It is possible that your high LDL is being balanced by high HDL cholesterol. At this stage, prevention and treatment is most important. Continue eating a healthy cholesterol lowering diet, exercise regularly and stay away from tobacco. If needed (depends on your LDL cholesterol level), the doctor may prescribe cholesterol medications.
240 mg/dL and over If your blood cholesterol level is above 240mg/dL, it means you are High Risk and are at twice the risk of heart disease compared to people having desirable cholesterol level.

HDL or Good Cholesterol Levels

The higher the levels of HDL, the lower of risk of heart diseases. The average HDL level is 40 to 50mg/dL for man and between 50 to 60 mg/dL for women. A HDL cholesterol level above 60mg/dL gives higher protection against heart disease. If your HDL is less than 40 mg/dL for men and less than 50 mg/dL for women, it puts you at a greater heart disease risk. It is advisable to maintain a healthy diet, avoid tobacco and lead an active life with required amounts of exercise. If your blood triglycerides are high it also puts you in greater risk of strokes and other heart diseases.

LDL or Bad Cholesterol Level

The lower your LDL cholesterol, the lower your risk of heart attack and stroke. In fact, it's a better gauge of risk than total blood cholesterol. In general, LDL levels fall into these categories:

Cholesterol Level Cardiovascular health level/Risk level
Less than 100mg/dL Optimal
100 to 129 mg/dL Near Optimal/ Above Optimal
130 to 159 mg/dL Borderline High
160 to 189 mg/dL High
190 mg/dL and above Very High

Your ideal LDL level is determined by other factors that affect your heart disease risks. Thus, the LDL level which is healthy for you might not be the same for another.

Blood Triglyceride Level

Triglyceride is a form of fat. People with high Triglyceride might also have high LDL and low HDL cholesterol levels. In general, Triglyceride levels fall into these categories:

Triglyceride Level Cardiovascular health level/risk level
less than 150 mg/dL Normal
150–199 mg/dL Borderline-High
200–499 mg/dL High
500 mg/dL Very High

Causes of high Triglyceride

1. Overweight/Obesity
2. Leading a Sedentary life
3. Tobacco and alcohol
4. High Cholesterol Diet.
5. Genetic

Managing Cholesterol

Cholesterol Management is the most important aspect of high cholesterol treatment.

Cholesterol Testing

Cholesterol is a form of fat or lipid present in the blood. A Cholesterol test is done to determine the levels of cholesterol (LDL, HDL and total) and triglycerides in the serum - a part of the blood. The test is mainly used to monitor ones cholesterol levels and evaluate person's risk for heart disease, thus cholesterol screening is more done for preventive purpose rather than to reduce high cholesterol. The test can be done at home with a home cholesterol testing kit or at a medical centre.

When to test for cholesterol
1. Cholesterol should be tested while a person is healthy. In times of illness, the cholesterol level decreases naturally and takes about 6 weeks to normalize.
2. If an individual is above 20 years of age, the cholesterol levels should be tested regularly, about once in every 5years.
3. If a person is trying to control his cholesterol levels, he/she should test it often, using a self cholesterol check if needed.

Home Cholesterol Test
A home cholesterol tester can be picked up from a chemist shop. In order to perform the test, the patient should get a drop of blood by pricking his finger with a clean lancet. This drop of blood, is put on a special piece of paper containing chemicals. The paper changes color depending on the cholesterol level in the blood. The instruction to interpret the test results would be included in the pack. The patients should follow the advices and instructions of the doctor when taking the test.

How to Lower Cholesterol

How to reduce cholesterol? The ways to lower cholesterol naturally is to follow a proper cholesterol reducing diet and exercise regularly. Diet should be changed for the better, without having to sacrifice the basic nutrient requirements that keep the body fit. Fats and oil sources should be lessened, and supplemented with other sources of energy, such as whole grain, and non-fat dairy products.

Diet for Cholesterol Control

Functional Foods: Functional foods are foods that provide additional health benefits besides the traditional nutrients it contains. They may be fresh nutritious foods or processed foods that assist in bodily functions. The most famous example of functional food is salt where iodine is added to it to prevent goiter. Some foods that help lower your cholesterol are:

Diet to Lower Cholesterol/ Foods that Lower Cholesterol

1. Fish- is amongst cholesterol lowering foods. Omega-3, a fatty acid present in fish can help lower the risk of heart disease and also helps reduce blood pressure. Examples of omega 3 fatty acids are:
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), found only in seafood such as salmon, tuna, trout, mackerel etc.
Additional benefits of Omega-3
1. Reduces risk of blood clots
2. Improves eyesight
3. Improves nervous system functions.
4. Also help fight certain forms of cancer.

2. Nuts- Nuts also contain omega 3 fatty acids. Examples of nuts high in omega 3 fatty acids are:
Pecans- besides lowering LDL it helps maintain good levels of HDL. Nuts should therefore, be a part of a low cholesterol diets.

3. Lean Red Meat
Lean Red Meat is meat from which the harmful fats have been removed. Lean meat therefore, is necessarily a high cholesterol diet, on the contrary, it is a good source of vitamin B12, zinc, iron and protein.

4. Eating Less Fatty Dairy Products
Foods high in cholesterol include:
However, one should not cut off these high cholesterol foods completely as they provide other health benefits. However, the intake of these should be controlled, for example:
Drink low fat/ skimmed milk.
Opt for low fat yoghurt and add fresh fruits to it.
Have low fat cheese, made with skimmed milk.
The egg yolk contains most of its cholesterol. Therefore, eat the white of egg and avoid the yolk.

5. Eat Lots of Fruits and Vegetables
Besides containing vital vitamins, fruits and vegetable also contain soluble fiber and pectin which help in lowering cholesterol levels. Examples of such foods that help in reducing cholesterol are :
Fruits: apples, oranges, apricots
Vegetables: cabbage, sweet potatoes

6. Beta Gucan- is a type of soluble fiber found in oats and grains, which is a vital and natural cholesterol lowering source.

There are also cholesterol medicines that help relax the blood vessels and allow their diameters to increase, so blood flows more freely. Exercise and regular activities can also help lower high cholesterol. Meditation and other relaxing practices also help improve blood circulation.

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