Despite what we often hear, cholesterol is essential for the body to survive. Cholesterol is responsible for building the structure of our cell walls, producing digestive bile acids in the intestines, aiding the body in producing vitamin D, and assisting the body with certain hormones. However, as with many things in life, cholesterol is only good in moderation. Consuming too much cholesterol is dangerous. High cholesterol can be the cause of many fatal conditions such as heart attacks and strokes. Keep reading to learn about symptoms, causes, and preventions of high cholesterol.
Symptoms of High Cholesterol
Unfortunately, high cholesterol does not display symptoms or warning signs. The only way to diagnose high cholesterol is through a blood test. It is recommended that everyone has their blood cholesterol levels tested every five years. Since high cholesterol is often the cause of heart attacks and strokes you can watch for certain symptoms like difficulty breathing, pain or numbness in the arms, confusion, loss of coordination, dizziness, and nausea.
Types of Cholesterol
There are two types of cholesterol: low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL). Low-density lipoprotein, often referred to as the “bad” cholesterol, builds on the walls of arteries causing them to narrow. High-density lipoprotein, the “good” cholesterol, transports excess cholesterol back to the liver for the body to dispose of.
Cause: Poor Diet
If you consume a diet full of saturated and trans fat, then you have a higher chance of developing high cholesterol. Saturated fat increases LDL, which in turn raises cholesterol levels. Trans fat is unhealthy because it increases LDL, the “bad” cholesterol while decreasing HDL, the “good” cholesterol. Animal products like red meat and full-fat dairy are high in saturated fat. Trans fat is commonly found in processed food such as cookies and crackers.
Obesity is defined as a body mass index of 30 or higher. Although obesity can be tied to genes, often people with obesity also have a poor diet. People who are obese can make small changes to their lifestyles that will make a big difference in their cholesterol levels. For example, changing calorie intake and engaging in exercise is recommended. Some people believe having high cholesterol will make it hard for them to lose weight; however, that is not the case. Developing a healthier lifestyle will allow weight loss and aid in lowering cholesterol levels.
Cause: Lack of Exercise
Exercise is important for many reasons in life including maintaining healthy cholesterol levels. When exercising, your body increases HDL while stimulating LDL to flow through the blood to the liver, which allows it to leave the body quicker. Lipoprotein can be small and dense or large and fluffy. The small, dense particles are the dangerous ones because they can squeeze into linings of the heart and blood vessels. You can increase the size of lipoproteins through exercise.
It’s no surprise that smoking is bad for you, but did you know it can also lead to high cholesterol? Smoking tobacco damages the walls of blood vessels, allowing cholesterol to accumulate along them. Also, smoking reduces HDL in the body, which aids the body in ridding itself of LDL.
People with diabetes are likely to experience high cholesterol. Similar to smoking, diabetes damages arteries, allowing cholesterol to accumulate along them. Over time, the accumulation of lipoproteins makes damaged arteries stiff and narrow, restricting blood flow. High blood sugar levels directly relate to the body having higher levels of LDL and lower levels of HDL.
During pregnancy, it is important to increase cholesterol levels because it assists the body to produce two hormones: estrogen and progesterone. These particular hormones are essential for a healthy, full-term pregnancy. Cholesterol is also critical for the baby, as it increases the rate of brain and limb development. The time a woman spends pregnant is a small time frame in their life, so most doctors will not treat high cholesterol during pregnancy.
The best way to prevent high cholesterol is to have a healthy lifestyle through diet and exercise. A healthy diet should include low sodium foods, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. You should also consume an appropriate portion of animal fats and maintain a healthy weight. Also, do not smoke tobacco and limit alcohol consumption. At least 30 minutes of exercise every day of the week is recommended for a healthy heart.
Risks of High Cholesterol
The risks associated with high cholesterol are dangerous and can be fatal. Because high cholesterol blocks arteries, it greatly increases your risk of chest pain, heart attacks, and strokes. In addition to a lifestyle change, there are several different types of medicines available to aid in lowering cholesterol. If you believe you are at risk for high cholesterol, it is best to visit your medical provider for diagnosis and treatment.