Your body makes cholesterol naturally. Cholesterol is essential to cell production, certain hormones, vitamin D, and your digestive system. So cholesterol is vital to our existence. At the proper levels, it is your friend. High cholesterol levels are your enemy.
What is cholesterol – what does it do?
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance produced in the liver. There are two main types; Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL) and High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL).
LDL delivers cholesterol in the bloodstream to where it is needed. HDL transports excess cholesterol back to the liver and then excreted as bile.
Doctors often call LDL the “bad cholesterol” because too much can be harmful. HDL is called “good cholesterol” because it acts as a cleanup agent. Too little HDL can be dangerous.
High cholesterol levels are significant indicators of your risk of suffering from heart disease. Heart disease is the number one killer of adult men and women in the USA. More than one million Americans experience heart attacks yearly, and nearly half a million die from heart disease. Almost 40% of American adults have total blood cholesterol levels above the desirable level (200mg/dL). (nhlbi.nih.gov/files/ docs/public/heart/wyntk.pdf)
What causes high cholesterol?
The human body naturally produces cholesterol- an essential part of our chemical makeup. The wrong balance of cholesterol in your system can be dangerous. But what causes an imbalance? The liver manufactures about 80% of the cholesterol that your body needs. The other 20% comes from your diet. Four main factors affect your body’s cholesterol levels.
The genes which influence the production and excretion of cholesterol may be faulty and cause the levels of cholesterol in your body to be unhealthy. Cholesterol abnormalities can run in families
2) Your age
As we age, the body’s ability to process cholesterol gradually deteriorates,leading to higher cholesterol levels in older people.
3) Your diet
Your body produces between 80% and 85% of your requirement for cholesterol. Your food intake provides the rest – dietary cholesterol. Your choice of diet affects your cholesterol level.
4) Your level of exercise
Evidence suggests that regular exercise helps to maintain your cholesterol balance. Exercise increases the amount of ‘good cholesterol” (HDL) and reduces the amount of ‘bad cholesterol” (LDL) your body produces.
It is hard to affect the first two factors, but ‘diet’ and ‘exercise’ are, for most of us, lifestyle choices. Tobacco usage lowers HDL by as much as 15%. This decrease can put you at greater risk from excess ‘bad cholesterol.’
Are high levels of cholesterol dangerous?
The cholesterol produced naturally by your liver (about 1,000 milligrams a day) is vital to the process of
- Forming and maintaining cell membranes, i.e., keeping them stable
- Creating sex hormones such as progesterone and testosterone
- Digesting food (bile)
- Converting into vitamin D in the skin (when exposed to sunlight)
Cholesterol is present in most animal life forms. Eating fatty animal-derived products such as meat and dairy adds dietary cholesterol to the total cholesterol in the bloodstream.
The process is complex, but the result is that too much LDL(bad) cholesterol in your blood increases the tendency toward developing fatty deposits in arteries and the risk of blockages. But too little HDL, the good cholesterol that removes cholesterol from your arteries, also increases the risk of blockages. It is a question of balance.
What will it cost to check my cholesterol level?
Despite the importance of cholesterol to our well-being and how damaging an imbalance of cholesterol levels can be, high cholesterol levels cause no symptoms. The essential preventive services provided under ACA-compliant plans include regular cholesterol tests. You may receive a cholesterol test every five years at no cost to you.
These services are free only when delivered by an in-network provider and when the preventive service is the primary purpose of your visit.
My cholesterol is too high – what can I do?
If your cholesterol level is higher than desirable your first reaction, in consultation with your Doctor, is to consider the factors contributing to the condition. Age, heredity, and some other factors may benefit from medication.
In such circumstances, your Doctor may recommend medication if:
- You have suffered a heart attack or stroke.
- You have a peripheral arterial disease
- You have an LDL cholesterol level over 190 mg/dL.
- You are 40–75 years old, have diabetes, and your LDL cholesterol level is 70 mg/dL or higher
- You are 40–75 years old and at high risk of developing heart disease.
- You are 40-75 years old and at high risk of having a stroke and an LDL
- cholesterol level of 70 mg/dL or higher
Your healthcare team can advise you on how to lower your heart disease risk.
But in any circumstances, there are lifestyle choices you could make which would improve your cholesterol balance. A diet change can have the most immediate and significant effects on cholesterol balance.
Hundreds of lists, some commercially sponsored, prescribe what you should eat.Here, we describe the general food types that may help manage your cholesterol levels.
- Reduce high levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol
- Increase levels of HDL (good) cholesterol
To reduce LDL, limit (avoid) foods with a high cholesterol content, e.g., animal
- Fatty meats, cheese, and other whole-fat dairy productsproducts such as
Substitute with foods low in animal (saturated) fats, trans fat, salt, and added sugar; foods such as
- Lean meat, skinless poultry, seafood, low or fat-free dairy products
- Whole grains, fruits, and vegetables
Some foods may not only help to reduce LDL levels but increase HDL(good) levels, high fiber foods such as
- Oatmeal, legumes ( beans such as kidney, black, borlotti, chickpeas, and garden peas)
- Unsaturated fats (non-animal fats) as found in avocado, nuts(unsalted!), and vegetable oils, e.g., olive oil.
Your diet may be the most significant factor in controlling your cholesterol levels. But there are other lifestyle choices such as regular physical activity, tobacco usage, and alcohol consumption. Your ACA-compliant health insurance or Medicare coverage entitles you to no-cost screening, tests, or counseling not only for cholesterol
- Blood pressure
- Quitting smoking
- Losing weight, eating healthily
- Treating depression
- Reducing alcohol abuse