Thursday, December 27, 2018

Cholesterol, Explained

When was the last time you were at a dinner and someone refused to eat a certain food because it contained “high cholesterol”?

We all have cholesterol. In fact, we need it to function healthily. Here are some common questions and answers about this popular but often misunderstood substance in our bodies.

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a white, fatty substance found on the walls of arteries. There are two main types: one is made by your liver, the other comes from the foods you eat.

What does it do?

Your body uses cholesterol to make sex hormones, build tissue, and produce bile.

What is “bad” cholesterol?

Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, otherwise known as “bad” cholesterol, make up most of your body’s cholesterol. Too much LDL cholesterol on the walls of your arteries logically make the artery narrower and less efficient in transporting blood. This is a risk factor for more serious heart issues down the road.

What is “good” cholesterol?

High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, otherwise known as “good” cholesterol absorbs excess cholesterol and delivers it back to the liver, which then excretes it from the body. In other words, good HDL helps get rid of the bad LDL.

Am I at risk of cholesterol problems?

There are several risk factors associated with cholesterol, some of which you can control, some you cannot. Let’s break it down into these two categories.

Risk factors you cannot control:
-    Family history of high cholesterol
-    Familial hypercholesterolemia
-    Age – the older you are, the more at risk you are
-    Sex – more men than women have cholesterol problems

Risk factors you can control:
-    Diet high in saturated and trans fat
-    Not enough exercise
-    Obesity
-    Smoking

Should I get my cholesterol checked?

The American Heart Association recommends anyone age 20 and above to get their cholesterol checked once every 4-6 years. If you have a familial history of high cholesterol, talk to your doctor.

Does high cholesterol affect children?

We often think of cholesterol as an “old people problem.” Risk increases with age, but children are not exempt from high cholesterol problems.

Familial hypercholesterolemia is a serious genetic disorder that can put a child at high risk for heart disease. The American Heart Association recommends testing children who have a parent or grandparent that had cardiac issues and other conditions.

What are complications from too much cholesterol?

Since excess cholesterol means a narrower artery for blood to travel through, a blockage can cause a variety of serious health problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke.

What are symptoms of high cholesterol?

Unfortunately, high cholesterol doesn’t announce itself with visible symptoms. That’s why it’s important to get tested on a regular basis.

What do my cholesterol readings mean?

You may be concerned if you see your test results and it says you have a high level of total cholesterol. However, instead of looking at a single number, doctors now look at the bigger picture when assessing a patient’s cholesterol. Factors that affect your health include the ratio of HDL versus LDL as well as your triglyceride levels.

What foods cause high cholesterol?

The production of cholesterol is stimulated by foods that contain high amounts of saturated and trans fats. Saturated fats are found in animal products like meat and dairy.

What foods should you eat if you have high cholesterol?

People with high cholesterol levels should avoid foods high in saturated fat. Instead, they should eat foodhigh in fiber, such as grains, beans, and vegetables. They should also quit smoking, limit alcohol consumption, and be encouraged to exercise and maintain a healthy weight.

What medications are used to treat cholesterol?

There are many drugs available that can help lower your cholesterol levels. Common medications include statins like atorvastatin and simvastatin along with aspirin, ezetimibe, and bile acid sequestrants.

Since each medication has its own unique characteristics and side effects, you may react well to one and badly to another. Some medications, such as statins, are to be taken for the rest of your life. This can run up quite a bill! You can save on medications by ordering them online from a reputable international or Canadian pharmacy referral service like Rx Connected that has undergone rigorous approval procedures.

Are eggs bad for you?

In the past, eggs were demonized because they contained a lot of cholesterol. It seemed to make sense that to lower your cholesterol, you should eat less of it.

Now, we know that diet doesn’t affect cholesterol levels as much as the liver. How much cholesterol the liver makes is, in turn, affected by saturated and trans fats you eat. Eggs are not high in saturated and trans fats; therefore, most doctors say that eating an average of an egg a day should be fine for most healthy people.

The Bottom Line

High cholesterol can run in families, but if you fall into this risk category, there are many simple, everyday things you can do to lower your chance of illness. Eating well and exercising are not only good for your arteries, but your overall mental and physical health will benefit as well.

Research for this article was taken from the Center for Disease Control, the American Heart Association, Harvard Health Publishing, and the National Health Service of the UK.

This is a guest blog entry.

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