We’ve probably heard about it at one time or another; at the doctor’s, in advertisements, or read it in magazines and at the side label of a food product. But what exactly is cholesterol? Simply put, cholesterol is a fat like substance that is produced by the liver and is found in foods such as red meat, eggs, and dairy products. For the most part, cholesterol is healthy to our bodies, as it used to create hormones and cell membranes.
There are two types of cholesterol; good cholesterol (HDL- high density lipoprotein) and bad cholesterol (LDL- low density lipoprotein). HDL is very useful to the body, and helps prevent the risk of heart failure and blood pressure issues. LDL, on the other hand, is dangerous in high levels, and will be deposited along the lining of the heart muscles and arteries, thus increasing the risks of blood clotting and slow blood flow.
Where does cholesterol come from?
The main sources of cholesterol are animal products such as egg yolk, seafood, fish, and red meat. Foods high in saturated fats also contribute to cholesterol in the body. Foods that have little to no levels of cholesterol include nuts, grains, fruits, and vegetables.
From that, it is easy to see that we probably get all the cholesterol we need from the foods we eat every day. However, the problem is that we tend to eat more than what the body requires (about 1,000 milligrams), and tack on additional cholesterol. To test for cholesterol a blood analysis is performed. Normal cholesterol readings are below 200 for every milliliter of blood. Any reading above 240 is considered dangerous. Between 200 and 239 is also high, but can be managed.
High levels of cholesterol are harmful to one’s health. For starters, cholesterol is deposited on the walls of the heart and arteries, thus increasing the risk of heart attack and strokes. Heart attacks are a serious matter, and surviving one is not guaranteed. Strokes, on the other hand, occur when blood clots travel to the brain, causing damage that manifests as loss of motor skills, paralysis, and sometimes even death. Ask a doctor and they’ll tell you these two ailments conditions have no warning signs, thus the reason why cholesterol is called the silent killer. There are no physical indications of high cholesterol, and sadly either a heart attack or stroke will be the symptom.
Are there other contributing factors?
Genes. To some extent, genetics will play a factor in likelihood of high cholesterol levels. A gene associated with high cholesterol may be passed on through generations, putting carriers at risk of falling prone to the disease. Also, those with a family history of diabetes are also at risk of inheriting high cholesterol genetic factors.
Diet. We’ve mentioned diet before, and the kinds of food that will contribute to high levels of the bad type of cholesterol. To counter this, you can switch your diet to include foods that are low in fat (saturated and animal fat), and including a lot of starch in your diet. Lots of fruits should also be consumed, as should be whole grains.
Exercise. Regular exercise is a good combatant of cholesterol. Not only does exercise counter cholesterol, it raises the amount of HDL in the body. HDL gets rid of the bad cholesterol, and helps to keep unnecessary weight gain under wraps. Make exercise a part of your day for at least half an hour to a full hour. Start off easy and build on the improvements you make.
Smoking. Smoking raises the chances of an individual getting high cholesterol. Coupled with lung problems, smoking really shouldn’t be advocated.
Alcohol. If you don’t consume alcohol, don’t start now. Moderate alcohol use will increase the levels of HDL, but abuse will increase the rate of heart disease, alcoholism, strokes, high blood pressure, among other deadly ailments. Given the multitude of risks you open yourself to by consuming alcohol, doctors recommend that you don’t consume it all (if you don’t drink), or doing it moderately (1 to 2 drinks for men/day, 1 drink for women/day).
Is cholesterol treatable?
High levels of cholesterol are indeed treatable, but only depending on the cause. When the high levels are caused by high intake of fatty foods, modifications to the diet will be of utmost help. In the same light, obesity can be treated by regular exercise and good diet habits. Reduced dependence on alcohol and tobacco will deal with those symptoms coming from those habits.
Unfortunately, cholesterol is often caught when something tragic happens. This is why physicians recommend regular checkups that will also include blood work. For those people whose high cholesterol is as a result of genetics, there are various drugs that can help. Most of the drugs are prescription medication, thus requiring an actual checkup to come to a diagnosis.
One thing does help to keep high cholesterol, regardless of cause, and that is exercise. Regular exercise is very beneficial to the body as a whole, and when combined with a proper diet, may rule out the need for medication.
The good news is that we hold out destiny in our hands. How we choose to live our lives results in how healthy our bodies are. Modern hedonistic lifestyles are not conducive for good health, and it is high time that individuals watched what they put into their bodies. Sedentary lifestyles should also not be encouraged. Obesity is fast becoming a problem, and if not watched, will sweep over the young and old alike.
Now that you know the inside scoop on cholesterol, it is time to do something about it. Snacking once in a while is not bad, but should be done moderately. Balance your intake of fatty foods with non-fatty fruits and vegetables, exercise on a regular basis, and make a visit to the doctor the norm, not the exception. Don’t let the silent killer make you part of its list of victims.