Cholesterol, a term everyone despises. But how and at what levels does cholesterol influences your health.
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a form of fat our body uses to protect nerves, make cell tissues and produce certain hormones. Internally it is made by liver cells and we also get cholesterol from the food we eat (like eggs, meats and dairy products).
Do you know how many types of cholesterol are there?
Cholesterol travels through the blood in different types of bundles, called lipoproteins. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) delivers cholesterol to the blood and High-density lipoprotein (HDL) removes cholesterol from the bloodstream. This explains why too much LDL cholesterol is bad for the body, and why a high level of HDL is good.
When should you start having cholesterol levels checked?
You can’t tell if you have high cholesterol without having it checked as there are no physical signs of the same till the levels become too high. All adults, 20 years of age and older should have their cholesterol checked every 5 years. If your cholesterol level is high or you have other risk factors for heart disease, you may need to have it checked more often.
A blood test known as a lipid profile is administered to get cholesterol checked.
What does your cholesterol level mean?
- Less than 200 mg/dL is best.
- 200-239 mg/dL is borderline high.
- 240 or more means you are at risk for heart disease.
- Below 100 mg/dL is ideal for people at high risk of heart disease.
- 100-129 mg/dL is near optimal.
- 130-159 mg/dL is borderline high.
- 160 or more means you are at risk for heart disease.
- Less than 50 mg/dL for women and 40 mg/dL for men increases the risk
- 60 or higher greatly reduces your risk of heart disease.
Why is a high cholesterol level unhealthy?
While some cholesterol is needed for good health, too much cholesterol in your blood can increase your risk for heart disease, including heart attack or stroke. Your body may store the extra cholesterol in your arteries (blood vessels). Over time, this build-up can become hard and make your arteries narrow or might even completely block an artery. If this blocked artery supplies blood to the heart, a heart attack can occur or stroke in case this blocked artery supplies blood to the brain.
What can I do to improve my numbers?
It is a good idea to have your cholesterol checked regularly if there is a problem. Here are some steps you can take to improve your cholesterol levels:
- If you smoke, quit.
- Exercise regularly. Brisk walking for 30 minutes/day is a good goal
- Lose weight if needed. Losing just 2.5 to 4.5 kg will show favourable changes in your lipid profile.
- Avoid saturated (red meat, whole milk dairy products, coconut oil, cocoa butter) and Trans fats (fried foods, commercially baked goods, processed foods, margarine). Also, limit your overall cholesterol intake to less than 300 mg per day and 200 mg if you have heart disease.
- Eat a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet with plenty of fresh veggies, whole grains, and fruits
- Include a good amount of ω-3 and ω-6 fatty acids in the diet as food (flaxseed, walnuts, lettuce, broccoli, spinach, pumpkin seeds, sesame, sunflower) or supplements
Cholesterol is also affected by blood pressure and blood glucose. If your blood glucose or blood pressure is high, your cholesterol numbers may be high as well.
Do I need to take medicines to lower cholesterol?
Depending on your risk factors, if healthy eating and exercise don’t work to lower your cholesterol level, your doctor may suggest medicine.
Talk to your doctor about whether you may be at higher risk for diabetes and heart disease. Then take steps to lower your risk so you can live a longer, healthier life.