Should You Be Concerned with Your Cholesterol Levels?
Here at Tiger Fitness, keeping up with the latest health and nutrition information is something we take seriously. We've all heard the warnings about out-of-control cholesterol levels, but what do we really know about it? Let's step back, take a breath, and do a little digging on just what we're talking about when we're talking about high cholesterol.
What Is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a fat-like, waxy chemical compound that's found in all your cells. The human body needs cholesterol to make certain hormones, vitamin D, and substances that aid in digestion. Your body can make the cholesterol it needs, but it's also obtained through animal-sourced foods, such as meat, egg yolks, and cheese.
The Good, the Bad, and How It Affects You
Your body uses several types of cholesterol, but there are two specific types on which doctors focus. These are LDL and HDL cholesterol, the two main types found throughout your body.
The Good: HDL (High-Density Lipoprotein)
HDL cholesterol enjoys a reputation as the "good" form. It absorbs cholesterol from around your body and carries it back to your liver. There it's flushed from the body. Maintaining a healthy HDL level may offer protection against stroke and heart disease. Women tend to have higher HDL levels than men, but this can change post-menopause.
The Bad: LDL (Low-Density Lipoprotein)
LDL cholesterol wears the label of "bad" form of cholesterol. Unfortunately, it makes up most of the cholesterol in the human body. When you have elevated levels of LDL cholesterol, you're at higher risk of stroke and heart disease. If you have an excessive amount of LDL cholesterol, it can build up on the inside walls of your blood vessels, a condition known as plaque buildup. This accumulation of LDL cholesterol narrows the inside opening of the blood vessel. The narrowing blocks the flow of blood to and from your heart and other organs. Blood flow blocked to the heart can cause a condition known as angina or chest pain. It may also trigger a heart attack.
How It Affects You
Your body needs to make hormones, digestive fluids, and vitamin D. To do this, you need a certain amount of cholesterol. It also helps your organs function properly. The problem begins when you have too much LDL cholesterol. Here's a breakdown of the effect high LDL cholesterol can have on your body:
- Stroke. Arteries in the brain can become blocked with cholesterol buildup and trigger a stroke.
- Heart attack. The buildup of plaque inside the arteries that feed blood to the heart can cut off blood flow to the heart muscle. When this happens, the affected portion of the heart muscle can die. This condition causes a heart attack.
- Atherosclerosis. The buildup of sticky LDL cholesterol plaques inside the walls of arteries causes the artery to stiffen and harden, which reduces the amount of blood that can flow through them. This condition is called atherosclerosis and can lead to heart attacks and strokes.
Getting your cholesterol levels checked regularly and making lifestyle changes to lower your heart disease risk can decrease the complications associated with excess cholesterol.
How Do You Test Your Cholesterol Levels?
You can measure your cholesterol levels with a blood test called a lipoprotein panel. The information you'll get from the lipoprotein panel includes:
- Total cholesterol level. This is a measure of the total amount of cholesterol in your blood.
- LDL cholesterol. This "bad" cholesterol is the primary cause of buildup and blockage of the arteries.
- HDL cholesterol. This "good" cholesterol collects and removes LDL cholesterol from your arteries.
- Non-HDL. This value is your total cholesterol level minus your HDL level. The non-HDL level includes your LDL and other types of cholesterol.
- Triglycerides. This is another form of fat found in your blood that can increase your risk for heart disease, especially in women.
What Influences Cholesterol Levels?
Myriad conditions can affect your cholesterol levels, sending them high or low, depending on the behavior, dietary influence, or even genetics. What you eat, your weight, the level of stress you experience, and your level of activity are just a few things that can throw your cholesterol numbers off-track.
Much of the cholesterol that comes from your diet is as foods high in saturated fat. Some examples of these types of foods include:
- Red meat
- Whole milk and other full-fat dairies
The way your body makes and removes cholesterol changes depending on the amount of excess weight you're carrying. Being overweight also slows the removal of cholesterol from your body.
Lack of Exercise
It's a simple fact that lack of exercise can lead to weight gain. A daily bike ride or a high-intensity walk each day can work wonders on your high cholesterol levels.
Smoking has a detrimental effect on the walls of blood vessels, making it easier for LDL cholesterol to build up there. Smoking also depletes HDL levels. The narrowing of the blood vessels and the thickening of the blood caused by smoking force your heart to work harder to pump the blood through your body.
Familial Hypercholesterolemia is a genetic predisposition to high cholesterol that we may inherit from our parents. It is a dangerous genetic condition because it can lead to premature atherosclerotic heart disease.
Managing Your Cholesterol Levels
Managing your cholesterol levels isn't as difficult as it may seem. It takes a bit of effort and a willingness to educate yourself on the best way to go about keeping your cholesterol levels under control.
Keep in mind that there are some medications and supplements that may raise cholesterol levels. A conversation with your primary healthcare provider can help you recognize any you're taking that could be causing your problems.
Managing Through Diet
Some foods or fad diets may not be the best choice if you're trying to lower your cholesterol. Low-carb diets, for example, can increase your cholesterol levels. Foods to avoid if you have high cholesterol include:
- Whole-fat dairy products
- Fatty meats, especially red meat
- White bread
- White potatoes
- Processed foods
- White rice
- Highly processed sugars or flour
If you're looking to reduce your cholesterol levels, consider the following foods:
- Walnuts and other nuts
- Fatty fish such as salmon
- Soluble fibers, such as psyllium
Get What You Need to Achieve Healthy Cholesterol Levels
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