Cholesterol is a fat-like substance your body makes that aids the production of hormones, vitamin D, and cell tissue, in addition to protecting your nerves. All the cholesterol your body makes is by means of the food you consume, like meat, eggs, and dairy. While it serves an important purpose in your body, too much cholesterol can be a problem.
Good vs. Bad Cholesterol
If your high-density lipoprotein (HDL), also known as “good cholesterol,” is high, it does not pose a health risk as it removes cholesterol from the bloodstream. However, having high levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), also known as “bad cholesterol,” can put you at risk of heart disease or even a stroke.
When you eat more than your body uses up, the extra calories are converted into triglycerides, a type of fat present within your bloodstream. This is also not good for your health, so to keep yourself fit, you should adopt healthy lifestyle choices in the form of a good diet and exercise. This will keep LDL and triglyceride levels low in your body and raise HDL levels, thereby improving your cholesterol levels.
Some Causes of High Cholesterol
As we’ve established, eating more food than your body is using will cause your cholesterol levels to increase; however, being overweight and inactive are also huge contributing factors. Having an inactive lifestyle will decrease the HDL levels in your body but increase the bad cholesterol and fats.
This can also be a result of your genetics because high cholesterol generally runs in families. But apart from your family history, one individual habit that also causes high cholesterol is smoking, which is harmful to you in many other ways too, not just high cholesterol.
Does High Cholesterol Come With Any Symptoms?
Perhaps the most dangerous part about having high cholesterol is the fact that there are no symptoms that point towards you having it. In fact, most people find out they suffer from high cholesterol after they go through either a stroke or a heart attack. But to avoid these life-threatening events, one should get regular checkups and blood tests to ensure everything is working as it should.
When the cholesterol levels in your bloodstream are high, the extra cholesterol can get deposited in your arteries over time and harden. This is called plaque, and it basically makes your arteries narrower until it completely blocks them. This stops the blood flow in blocked arteries, which can cause heart attacks, and when it leads to the brain, it can cause strokes.
Since there are essentially no symptoms of high cholesterol, the only way it can be diagnosed is through blood tests. If your blood test results show that your cholesterol levels are high and you are an at-risk patient, know that there are several different ways you can improve your blood cholesterol and become healthier again. So, the only advice we can give you regarding its lack of symptoms is to get it checked out before it’s too late.
You can, however, get symptoms from the complications (heart attack, stroke) of high cholesterol in the form of angina and pain in the calves.
How to Treat/Prevent High Cholesterol
There are three basic things that you should immediately start or stop doing if you’ve already been diagnosed:
- You should start eating healthy
- You should start exercising regularly
- You should quit smoking (if you’re a smoker)
When we say adopt a healthy diet, we mean a diet that is low in saturated fats and cholesterol. You should consume plenty of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. Your diet pattern should also be healthy; for example, following the DASH diet pattern or the Portfolio diet has proven to be very effective when it comes to high cholesterol sufferers. Adopting a Mediterranean diet pattern is also great for reducing cholesterol levels in the body quickly. You should try to reach a healthy weight and then work towards maintaining that weight by eating right and putting some physical activity in.
As for exercise, you should put in at least 2.5 hours of intense aerobic physical activity per week. While you’re at it, you should also limit your alcohol consumption, just to be on the safe side.
Once you quit smoking and start working on keeping your blood pressure down, you significantly reduce your risk of suffering from a stroke, heart attack, or even angina. The kind of treatment that is suggested to you also depends on what your level of risk is. For example, just these lifestyle changes can be enough for people at low to moderate risk. However, for high-risk individuals, medication becomes necessary.
Most of the medications that are used to treat high cholesterol patients are the ones that include “statins” in their names. These medicines work to prevent further clogging of the arteries, and they lower LDL levels in the patient’s blood while simultaneously raising HDL levels. However, medicines alone cannot take care of you, and you must make the aforementioned lifestyle changes in addition to taking your medicines to make sure you stay healthy. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not too late for people who have already been through strokes or heart attacks; in fact, they can benefit from these lifestyle changes too.
Of course, there are ways you can prevent this condition altogether. Yes, you guessed it, diet and exercise are the two most important things you need to factor into your life to stay healthy. Go for foods high in omega-3 fatty acids like salmon, almonds, and walnuts. Garlic, flaxseed, oat bran, and red yeast rice are also known as effective foods for preventing high cholesterol. And otherwise, just consuming a diet high in fiber and low in animal fats should do the trick.
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