Cholesterol is the current buzzword ready to stir tension among people! There are many conceptions and misconceptions amongst people regarding cholesterol. But, how many people actually know that there is good and bad cholesterol and that the good one is needed to even out effects of bad one?
It is also wrongly believed that, kids cannot develop cholesterol problems. Wrong! They can develop cholesterol problems at as less an age as 8. For adults, the silver lining is that 1 in 3 adults having high cholesterol are able to keep it under check.
Read on to find out more about cholesterol, what happens if you have high cholesterol, ways to control it, tests to determine your cholesterol levels and much more:
What is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a fatty, wax-like substance, found in cells of our body. Cholesterol is produced by the liver.
What are the important functions of cholesterol?
Cholesterol is not the villain it is perceived to be. On the contrary, it is extremely essential to maintain a healthy body and keeping heart disease at bay. Meaning, it is important to keep blood cholesterol at a low level for reducing risk of coronary heart disease.
These are the few important functions of cholesterol:
Cholesterol is vital for digesting food. An optimum level of cholesterol aides in healthy digestion, whereas a high level of the same can lead to gallstones and arterial wall having a buildup of plaque.
- Aides in producing vitamin D:
Cholesterol aides in producing vitamin D which is an essential nutrient for the body. It is vital in absorbing vitamin D from sources like sunlight, cod liver oil, mushrooms and few fish types like salmon, mackerel and tuna.
- Membrane Viscosity:
Cholesterol is responsible for increasing membrane viscosity, meaning the thickness of cell walls is dependent on cholesterol levels in one’s body. Even a small fluctuation in your cholesterol levels affects the cells and ultimately even digestion.
- Building memory and increasing learning ability:
Without cholesterol, no human will be able to learn new things, build social connections or even remember minor details. Surprised? Connections between
neurons in brain is directly dependent on cholesterol levels in the body. Hence, it is also called as building blocks of neurons.
What are types of cholesterol?
Yes, there are 2 types of cholesterol. One is good and naturally the other is bad.
- Good Cholesterol: Also known as HDL or High-density Lipoprotein, it is termed as the good one because of its ability to eliminate bad cholesterol from the arteries in our body. An ideal level of cholesterol is known to reduce risk of stroke and heart attack.
- Bad Cholesterol: Also known as Low-density Lipoprotein, it is known to trigger atherosclerosis and lessen flexibility of arteries. This leads to formation of clots in arteries and poor blood supply to the legs. If supply of oxygen to brain is affected, it can lead to a stroke, whereas, if the same happens to your heart, it leads to a heart attack.
What are the tests that determine high or low cholesterol levels?
There are various tests that help your doctor ascertain your cholesterol levels. Experts recommend everyone above 20 years of age to go in for such tests at least once in every five years. Few of the tests helpful in determining cholesterol levels are as follows:
- Cholesterol Test:
It is also referred to as complete lipid profile or lipoprotein panel test. This is a blood test which is advised only after 9-12 hours of prior fasting. It helps to determine HDL or High-density Lipoprotein, LDL or Low-density Lipoprotein, triglycerides and total cholesterol.
What are the ideal levels of cholesterol?
It is necessary to maintain optimum levels of good and bad cholesterol for a healthy and smoothly-functioning body. Studies have shown that maintaining a cholesterol level below 150 mg/dL protects you from a heart attack. A less than 100 mg/dL of LDL is considered to be optimal.
What happens if you have high cholesterol?
Cholesterol no wonder is a silent killer because it builds up insidiously without the person even being slightly aware of it. However, few of the symptoms listed below could be indicators of a high cholesterol:
- Heart attack:
A heart attack is a result of arteries getting plaqued with fats due to a high cholesterol. This is a serious indication of your cholesterol shooting to dangerous levels.
Angina happens because of narrowing of arteries supplying blood to the heart. Again, triggered due to high level of cholesterol.
- Aching legs:
Pain caused by trying to walk a few miles is indicator of legs getting fed with less blood. This also indicates possibilities of higher cholesterol levels.
- Type-2 diabetes:
Being a Type-2 diabetic, puts you at a higher risk of increasing cholesterol levels.
Strokes occur when artery supplying blood to the brain gets blocked due to plaque buildup and bad cholesterol. Immediate hospitalization should be done before the damage to body becomes irreversible.
A parent/ sibling having high cholesterol levels or a heart history is likelier to make you susceptible too.
What should be done to control cholesterol levels?
A few lifestyle changes can work wonders keeping you away from dangers kicked in by high cholesterol. Here are few tips for controlling your cholesterol levels and leading a normal life:
- Concentrate on eating foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids: Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids help rein in on your blood pressure, reduce triglycerides and increase level of good cholesterol in your body. Flaxseed, walnuts, soybeans, diary products like milk, cheese and yogurt are rich sources of omega-3, worth to be included for a healthy cholesterol.
- Avoid processed food: Processed and packaged foodstuffs; say, health drinks, juices etc., which are purportedly cholesterol free, aren’t what they claim. Such foods contain trans fats which can shoot up your cholesterol levels. Fried foods, bakery products, junk foods also contain trans fats. You’ll do good to avoid them.
- Focus on a diet containing soluble fiber: Among other stuffs, oats and barley are 2 foodstuffs high on soluble fiber hence, good for the body. Soluble fiber-rich foods make you feel satiated faster. They also absorb nutrients at a faster rate. These foods are not only great at managing hypertension, but also reducing cholesterol levels.
- Ditch a high fat diet: You probably adore your ghee packed parathas or the yummy butter floating on pav-bhaji. Also, you may relish eating cheese just like Jerry does in the most loved Tom and Jerry cartoon of all times. But, your body won’t necessarily agree with it. Diary products and animal foods contain saturated fat which is responsible for sending your bad cholesterol levels or LDL shooting up.
- Use herbs in your everyday food: Herbs like basil and turmeric not only increase taste quotient of your food, but also contribute in keeping cholesterol in check. Basil can be used in pastas, pizza and salads to spruce up their tastes and derive nutrition too.
- Use olive oil: Olive oil contains fats which are beneficial to your body. And hence, using olive oil instead of butter is found to reduce bad cholesterol by 15%.
- Spruce up the glass of red wine: You may or may not like this. But a glass of red wine can do wonders to your cholesterol levels. The grapes used in preparing wine contain stuff that actually reduces your cholesterol.
- Watch your caffeine intake: Coffee contains coffee oils like cafestol which are said to have an impact on the body’s metabolic abilities. Coffee oils decrease bile acids in your body and thus lead to a high cholesterol. Cafestol is identified as the element in diet which compounds cholesterol at a high rate.
- Chocolates! Studies show that dark chocolate counters bad cholesterol and maintains the levels of HDL cholesterol. So dark chocolate will counter risks of you getting any form of heart disease. Dark chocolate does a world of good for your health. All this is enough to make you ditch the delicious milk-chocolate for the bitter dark chocolate.
- Exercise: It is the word which many of us dread and hate as much as we hate going on diets. But studies have proved that 2 and a half hours of physical activity per week can go a long way in keeping your bad cholesterol in check.
Observing few of these simple diet changes along with regular cholesterol tests can do a world of good to you. It is a health scare, but if taken constructively, cholesterol can be controlled. With the help of right diet and supplements, you can make cholesterol work in your favor.