What You Need To Know About How To Prevent And Treat High Cholesterol

ABC News

Most of us know high cholesterol to be bad, and at times deadly. But cholesterol is not inherently evil, our bodies need it to build cells and make hormones. Dr. Demilade Adedinsewo, a cardiologist in Jacksonville, Florida explains, “Cholesterol is a fatty substance in the blood that is produced mostly by the liver, though some of it is obtained through your diet.”  He further adds that if cholesterol levels get too high, deposits can collect in the walls of arteries, creating plaque buildup in blood vessels, which could lead to a higher risk of heart problems.

There are basically three types of cholesterol: low-density lipoprotein (LDL) otherwise known as the “bad cholesterol”, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) – the “good” cholesterol, and triglycerides, which is another type of fat. All these make up your total cholesterol.

As we age, our liver becomes less efficient at removing LDL cholesterol from our blood, making older people more at risk of high cholesterol levels. And certain races are more susceptible to high cholesterol levels. Experts don’t exactly know why, but it is not something to be taken for granted: 95 million American adults, or 2 in 5 have high cholesterol.

But, according to Dr. Adedinsewo, the most concerning fact is that high cholesterol at times have detectable symptoms. “ If you don’t have it checked, it’s difficult to know if you have high blood cholesterol,” he stressed.


So, what factors can increase the risk of high cholesterol?

Being overweight. Most of us realize obesity is most likely to cause high cholesterol levels. Dr. Adedinsewo points out that, “ Studies have shown that obesity can affect the way the body metabolizes cholesterol and glucose, leading to increased production of and decreased breakdown of cholesterol particles.”

Eating a lot of trans and saturated fats. Though you don’t have to be obese to have the wrong diet, people who eat too much of trans and saturated fats raise the “bad” LDL cholesterol and lower the “good” HDL cholesterol.

Lack of exercise. Exercise is healthy, and physical activity helps boost HDL while lowering LDL. So those who take time to exercise are surely healthier, something most of us know for sure.

Smoking. Your doctor will tell you that smoking is bad, and aside from the different cancers and pulmonary illnesses, you also will have lower HDL, and accumulate more fatty deposits in your blood vessels.

Getting older. Unfortunately, as you age, your liver does not function as effectively. It has a harder time removing LDL cholesterol from your blood. Most people diagnosed with high cholesterol are in their 40s and 50s. However, children and youths between the ages of 6-19 may have high cholesterol (about 7% of them).

Women are less likely to have high cholesterol levels as compared to men, though after menopause, the decreased levels of estrogen in these women cause an increase in LDL levels. When it comes to race, non- Hispanic whites are more prone to high total cholesterol levels. As a group, Hispanic americans are more likely to have low “good” HDL cholesterol, Asian Americans more often than not have increased “bad” LDL cholesterol, and African-Americans are more likely to have other risk factors for heart disease, like diabetes and obesity, even as they have higher levels of HDL. It goes without saying that more research is needed to explain these findings.

Genetics also plays an important role, if you parents or grandparents had high cholesterol levels, you are more likely to have a higher risk of high cholesterol. The problem is, that symptoms may be difficult to detect – that is why it is known as the “silent condition.” There are those who exercise regularly, eat a balanced diet, yet exhibit high levels of cholesterol, explained Dr. Adedinsewo. Everyone is at risk, so it is best to have your blood checked regularly, particularly if you have related conditions such as diabetes or heart disease.

There is a type of blood test called a lipid panel which will measure the levels of total cholesterol. The levels considered healthy for adults are:

Total cholesterol – below 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL)

LDL cholesterol – below 100 mg/dL

HDL cholesterol – above 40 mg/dL (men), and above 50 mg/dL (women)

Triglycerides – below 150 mg/dL

While all the levels are important, your doctor will most likely focus on your LDL cholesterol levels. If it is high, your doctor will most likely recommend medication, and a lifestyle change. Getting the lipid panel test is similar to any regular blood test: you fast overnight, and the medical person will draw blood from an arm artery. Dr. Adedinsewo explains that you may feel light-headed immediately after, and some minor anxiety after the test. Your doctor may also ask about your family history regarding heart conditions, your diet, and your lifestyle. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends adults have their cholesterol checked every four to six years, or more often if you have diabetes, heart disease, or a family history of high cholesterol.

High cholesterol can be treated with medication and lifestyle changes. Dr. Adedinsewo explains, “ The treatment depends on the patient…We consider your age and medical history, especially your cardiovascular history.”  She also explains that older people who had bypass surgery will also need statins, and younger people may just need lifestyle changes. So what are these lifestyle changes?

Maintain a healthy weight. Obese people are more likely to have high cholesterol levels, but even underweight people can suffer from it as well. So, talk to your doctor as to what is the healthy and ideal weight for you.

Eat a healthy diet. It goes without saying that if you love greasy and fatty foods, you are more susceptible to high cholesterol. Saturated and trans fats increase LDL. Fiber will help increase your “good” cholesterol, but check with your doctor, as each person really needs a specific diet.

Exercise. Don’t be a couch potato, do some physical activity. The american Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of moderate activity, like brisk walking; or about 75 minutes of vigorous activity, like jogging, gym exercises, biking,etc., weekly. Just don’t overdo it, again, consult your doctor.

Quit smoking. Smokers are surely more prone to high cholesterol…it’s not an easy lifestyle change, but it is not impossible. There are groups to help out if you can’t manage it yourself. It is all up to you.

Knowing the complications of high cholesterol may help you decide on the lifestyle changes. The biggest concern is potential heart conditions. Dr. Adedinsewo explains, “ what we worry about most, from a cardiovascular standpoint, is the fatty deposits getting in the arteries.” This can lead to atherosclerosis, which can lead to other conditions such as:

Heart attack. When the flow of blood to a part of the heart is blocked and cuts off the flow of oxygen, this will happen.

Stroke. This happens when a blood vessel that feeds the brain is blocked, and usually forms a blood clot.

Peripheral arterial disease. Plaque buildup in arteries of the head, limbs, and organs, can cause numbness and pain.

Cardiovascular disease. This is the all-in-one for conditions that affect the heart’s structure and function. It is the leading cause of death in the US. It can cause chest pains called angina.

Preventing complications of high cholesterol are essential for living healthily. Note the lifestyle changes as they are very important. Exercise and eating right will surely help a lot. There are exercise routines for everybody, so consult an expert. There are also so many recipes for healthy, and low-cholesterol meals all over the internet, but it is best to consult your dietician. Even as we age and become more prone to high cholesterol, it can be remedied and avoided. It really is all up to you.