Everything You Need to Know About Cholesterol

Apr 15, 2015
The association between Cholesterol and Heart Diseases

The association between Cholesterol and Heart Diseases

About 2600 Americans die of varying types of cardiovascular diseases every single day. That means one person dies every 34 seconds. With 7.1 million Americans having already suffered from a heart attack, the condition is widespread. The worst part is, a lot of times those who survive through a heart attack move on to have another one later on in life. However, these statistics can easily be reduced if we acquire a basic understanding of cholesterol, what it is, and how it is associated with heart diseases.

So, what’s cholesterol? Fat?

Cholesterol is basically a waxy substance that is produced by the liver, and distributed all through the body for the creation of cell membranes and hormones. The ideal level of cholesterol that should be present in our body is under 200 mg/dl, and heart disease isn’t all that major of a concern if this level is retained. Unfortunately there are around 107 million Americans whose cholesterol levels are significantly above 200. Similar trends can be found around the world. 

Bad Vs. good cholesterol?

Yes, there are two different types of cholesterol in our body. See, when cholesterol is passed on to our bloodstream by the liver, it gets packed into what is known as LDL or Low Density Lipoproteins. LDL is basically the ‘bad cholesterol’ in our body. Although the fact is that LDL is extremely important, as it plays a major role in delivering cholesterol to different parts of our body, but it shouldn’t exceed certain quantities. Excessive amounts of LDL can trigger the risk of a heart attack.

When the cells release cholesterol, it is picked up for disposal purposes by a different package, which is known as HDL or High Density Lipoproteins – the ‘good cholesterol’. When looking at and measuring cholesterol levels, doctors typically consider them as being a basic guide to the risks of heart disease that a person faces. For ideal health, the ratio between total cholesterol and HDL needs to be less than 4 to 1. Sadly, for the average American male population, this ratio is higher : 5 to 1.

I’ve heard of triglycerides. What are those?

Triglycerides are basically the chemical form that is taken by the fats that exist in our body and food. These can also be found in blood plasma, and they build up plasma lipids in association with cholesterol.

 In terms of plasma, these are basically acquired from fats that are present in the foods that we eat, and / or are created in the body through varying sources of energy including carbohydrates. Actually, the calories present in our meals, when not used right away by our tissues, are converted into triglycerides which are then transported to fat cells for storage purposes. Their release from fat tissues is then regulated by hormones, and these are used to fulfill the body’s energy needs in between meals.

 How are high levels of cholesterol bad for the body?

Excessive amounts of cholesterol in the blood tend to trigger a blockage in pipes supplying nutrients to the body, particularly the heart arteries. The name of this build up is known as ‘plaque’, and because of it, the arteries tend to lose out on their flexibility. It actually hardens up the arteries, which is a condition called ‘atherosclerosis’, which, as you might know eventually leads to a heart attack.

 Increased amounts of plaque in the coronary artery triggers chest pain medically called “angina” as it restricts the supply of oxygen to the heart muscles which then do not receive their desired nutrients. The condition in which your coronary artery hardens up is known as coronary heart disease, and is typically triggered by higher levels of cholesterol.

 Know your numbers

American Heart Association recommends a

Total cholesterol level to be less than 200 mg/dl

Bad cholesterol or LDL level less than 130 mg/dl

Good Cholesterol of HDL level greater than 40 mg/dl in males and greater than 60mg/dl in females

Triglycerides less than 150 mg/dl

 If you have suffered a heart attack then the recommendation is to decrease your bad cholesterol to less than 70 mg/dl.

 How I can lower the risk of high cholesterol?

There are just a few simple things that you can do in order to control the level of cholesterol in our body. These are:

  • Decrease your alcohol intake
  • Exercise on a regular basis
  • Avoid foods that have high saturated fats such as butter, red meat and whole milk
  • Consume lots of vegetables, fruits, and fiber
  • If you have excess BMI (Body Mass Index), lose weight
  • Decrease your salt intake
  • When cooking meat, trim off excess fat
  • Steer clear of stressful situations
  • Stop smoking or at least smoke less

Eating healthy is a major part of your regime against high levels of cholesterol. The fats that you should be consuming can be found in fish oils, peanut butter, olive oil, unsalted nuts, and avocados. Cut down on your intake of salt, saturated oil, sodas and soft margarine. Animal fats should be avoided, along with egg yolks, butter, take out foods, cheese and butter. These foods need to be consumed in a very balanced manner. Some individuals may need medications to decrease high levels of cholesterol. these medications are known as statins – they help decrease the levels of bad cholesterol in the body and help in your fight against heart disease.