What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a waxy substance produced by the liver and also supplied in the diet through animal products such as meats, poultry, fish and dairy products. Cholesterol is needed (in the body) to insulate nerves, make cell membranes and produce certain hormones. However, the body makes enough cholesterol, and any dietary cholesterol may be considered to be excess.
The following factors may contribute to high cholesterol:
- A high-fat, high-cholesterol diet
- Being overweight may increase triglycerides and lower "good" cholesterol
- Lack of physical activity may increase "bad" cholesterol and lower "good" cholesterol
- Your age and sex
- Health conditions, such as diabetes or high blood pressure
- Your family history
Rarely, high cholesterol may be caused by an inherited problem called lipid disorder that changes the way the body handles cholesterol. People with lipid disorders may have total cholesterol levels well over 250mg/dL (6.46mmol/L). A total cholesterol level below 200mg/dL (5.17mmol/L) is desirable.
Why should you care about your cholesterol level?
High cholesterol is a leading risk factor for heart disease. Excess cholesterol in the bloodstream can form plaque (a thick, hard deposit) on artery walls. The cholesterol or plaque build-up causes arteries to become thicker, harder and less flexible, slowing down and sometimes blocking blood flow to the heart. When blood flow is restricted, chest pain or angina can result. When blood flow to the heart is severely impaired or stops completely, a heart attack can result.
Foods that are high in cholesterol include:
- Egg yolks
- Liver and kidney
- Dairy products such as milk and cheese
How to prevent high cholesterol
A sensible, low-fat diet and moderate amounts of exercise are important ways you can lower your high cholesterol level. For many people, following a diet low in saturated fat and low in cholesterol may be all that is needed to decrease bad cholesterol level.
Treatment/ management of high cholesterol
The goal of treating high cholesterol is to lower your cholesterol level and reduce your risk of developing coronary heart disease, heart attack, stroke and other disorders caused by atherosclerosis. Treatment is critical for those who already have coronary artery disease, diabetes, or who have a heart attack or stroke.
There are two basic ways of lowering your cholesterol
- Modify your lifestyle by changing your diet, managing your weight, increasing exercise, and quitting smoking.
- Use one or more of the lowering cholesterol medications while modifying your lifestyle.