Myth: All Cholesterol Is Bad For You
Fact: Some types of cholesterol are essential for good health. Your body needs cholesterol to perform important jobs, such as making hormones and building cells. Cholesterol travels through the blood on proteins called lipoproteins. Two types of lipoproteins carry cholesterol throughout the body:
- LDL , sometimes called bad cholesterol, makes up most of your bodys cholesterol. High levels of LDL cholesterol raise your risk for heart disease and stroke.
- HDL , or good cholesterol, carries cholesterol back to the liver. The liver then flushes it from the body. High levels of HDL cholesterol can lower your risk for heart disease and stroke.
When your body has too much LDL cholesterol, it can build up in the walls of your blood vessels. This buildup is called plaque. As your blood vessels build up plaque over time, the insides of the vessels narrow. This narrowing can restrict and eventually block blood flow to and from your heart and other organs. When blood flow to the heart is blocked, it can cause angina or a heart attack.
You Experience Leg Pain While Exercising
If you experience a burning pain or feel like your legs are tired or heavy it may indicate poor blood flow to your legs, which could be related to high cholesterol. Pain may impact one or both legs, as well as any part of the leg from the calf to your buttocks. Most of the time the pain subsides with rest but then reoccurs when you do the same level of activity again, such as walking two blocks.
Myth: Eating Foods With A Lot Of Cholesterol Will Not Make My Cholesterol Levels Go Up
Fact: It can be complicated. We know that foods with a lot of cholesterol usually also have a lot of saturated fat. Saturated fats can make your cholesterol numbers higher, so its best to choose foods that are lower in saturated fats. Foods made from animals, including red meat, butter, and cheese, have a lot of saturated fats.
Instead, aim to eat foods with plenty of fiber, such as oatmeal and beans, and healthy unsaturated fats, such as avocados, olive oil, and nuts. Learn more about healthy diets and nutrition at CDCs nutrition, physical activity, and obesity website.
Talk with your health care provider about ways to manage your cholesterol. Learn more about medicines to lower cholesterol.
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High Cholesterol Treatments And Covid
If you are already taking cholesterol-lowering drugs like statins, you should continue to do so until advised otherwise by a healthcare professional, even if you are diagnosed as COVID-19 positive.
If you have been recently diagnosed with high cholesterol levels, your healthcare provider may recommend lowering LDL levels using statins, cholesterol-lowering medications, to lessen the degree of injury to your blood vessels from COVID-19 attack.
In high-risk patients having severe COVID-19 disease, statin therapy may be initiated to prevent life-threatening cardiovascular complications.
Of note, some statins may cause severe side effects such as muscle aches and liver damage. If you are experiencing statin-associated muscle symptoms, inform a healthcare professional. Statin therapy may need to be discontinued if skeletal muscle symptoms and elevated liver enzymes persist.
What Should My Cholesterol Levels Be
Blood cholesterol is measured in units called millimoles per litre of blood, often shortened to mmol/L.
As a general guide, total cholesterol levels should be:
- 5mmol/L or less for healthy adults
- 4mmol/L or less for those at high risk
As a general guide, LDL levels should be:
- 3mmol/L or less for healthy adults
- 2mmol/L or less for those at high risk
An ideal level of HDL is above 1mmol/L. A lower level of HDL can increase your risk of heart disease.
Your ratio of total cholesterol to HDL may also be calculated. This is your total cholesterol level divided by your HDL level. Generally, this ratio should be below four, as a higher ratio increases your risk of heart disease.
Cholesterol is only one risk factor. The level at which specific treatment is required will depend on whether other risk factors, such as smoking and high blood pressure, are also present.
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What Is Dangerously High Cholesterol
You may be diagnosed with borderline-high or high cholesterol if your blood test results show:
- Total cholesterol higher than 200 milligrams per deciliter
- LDL cholesterol higher than 100 mg/dL
- Triglycerides over 150 mg/dL
- HDL cholesterol lower than 40 mg/dL
But what do these numbers really mean for your health?
While having high cholesterol isnt something youll notice day to day, it does mean youre at risk for or may already have heart disease, the leading cause of death for both women and men in the United States.
Want to know more? Here are answers to 11 frequently asked questions about high cholesterol.
Sneaky Causes Of High Cholesterol
If youre doing all you can to lower your cholesterol, but your numbers are still high, know that youre not alone. Here are some of the most common reasons.
1. You have a genetic risk of high cholesterol. If youre someone who has a relatively healthy lifestyle and your cholesterol levels are high if you have an LDL greater than 160 you probably have some genetic component that leads to high cholesterol, says Raj Khandwalla, MD, cardiologist and director of digital therapeutics at Smidt Heart Institute at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles. Familial hypercholesterolemia is an inherited condition that leads to cholesterol accumulating in the bloodstream, according to the FH Foundation.
Once you receive a diagnosis of high cholesterol, your doctor may prescribe a statin, a type of medication that blocks a substance your body uses to make cholesterol. Statins help lower LDL cholesterol, which reduces the risk of stroke or death from a heart attack, Dr. Khandwalla says.
2. Youre following a trendy diet. Khandwalla emphasizes that people who have high cholesterol should avoid the keto diet, a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet touted for weight loss. The most effective diets to lower cholesterol are a plant-based diet or vegan diet in which you decrease your dietary intake of cholesterol, says Khandwalla. If you still want to include meat in your diet, stick to lean proteins, such as chicken, turkey, and fish.
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Complications Of High Cholesterol And Covid
When LDL builds up in the blood, it can narrow or clog the arteries, raising your risk of having a:
- Heart attack
- Heart condition
COVID-19 puts the body in a pro-inflammatory state, damaging the heart and lung tissues while also increasing the risk of coagulopathy or blood clots. Those with high cholesterol and COVID-19 are at even higher risk of experiencing a cardiovascular event.
If you are obese or have high cholesterol levels, you may require more rigorous social distancing or shielding from people to avoid COVID-19 infection and subsequent complications.
How Is High Cholesterol Treated
If your child has an LDL cholesterol level of 130 mg/dL or higher, your doctor will talk to you about lifestyle changes or refer you to a dietitian. The goals are to:
- reduce fat and cholesterol in the diet
- increase exercise
- lose weight, if needed
Your doctor will probably do a cholesterol check again after 36 months of lifestyle changes.
Medicine might be considered for kids 10 and older whose LDL cholesterol is 190 mg/dL or higher if changes in diet and exercise haven’t worked. Kids with risk factors, such as diabetes or high blood pressure or a family history of high cholesterol or heart disease, may need treatment at lower LDL levels.
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What Can Raise My Risk Of High Cholesterol
A variety of things can raise your risk for high cholesterol:
- Age. Your cholesterol levels tend to rise as you get older. Even though it is less common, younger people, including children and teens, can also have high cholesterol.
- Heredity. High blood cholesterol can run in families.
- Weight. Being overweight or having obesity raises your cholesterol level.
- Race. Certain races may have an increased risk of high cholesterol. For example, African Americans typically have higher HDL and LDL cholesterol levels than whites.
Natural Remedies And Lowering Cholesterol
Its very important to talk to your health professional before using any:
- natural remedies
- or complementary therapies.
Sometimes they can do more harm than good. They may interact with any medication that youre taking, which can be dangerous. They can also make your medication less effective. Your doctor needs to know everything that you are taking to ensure that the combination is safe.
If youve been prescribed cholesterol-lowering medication, make sure you take it as directed by your doctor. This is one of the most effective ways to keep your cholesterol levels down.
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Safe Blood Cholesterol Levels
Health authorities recommend that cholesterol levels should be no higher than 5.5 mmol per litre if there are no other risk factors present. If there are other cardiovascular risk factors such as smoking and high blood pressure or pre-existing cardiovascular disease, then the aim for the LDL levels would be less than 2 mmol/l. Approximately half of all adult Australians have a blood cholesterol level above 5 mmol/l. This makes high blood cholesterol a major health concern in Australia.
Eating A Lot Of Fatty Foods And Lack Of Exercise
Well admit, this sign seems pretty straightforward, but theres absolutely no denying that eating a lot of fatty foods greatly increases the cholesterol levels in your body. A lack of exercise allows cholesterol to build up in your body. Excessive alcohol consumption and smoking are also highly detrimental. In short, if youre living an unhealthy lifestyle, chances are youre also dealing with high cholesterol.
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How Cholesterol Moves Around The Body
Cholesterol is a white, insoluble and waxy substance. It is carried around the body by two key transport systems in the blood, which include:
- Low-density lipoprotein cholesterol carries most of the cholesterol that is delivered to cells. It is called the bad cholesterol because when its level in the bloodstream is high, it can clog up your arteries.
- High-density lipoprotein cholesterol is called the good cholesterol, because it helps remove excess cholesterol out of the cells, including cells in the arteries.
Other Factors Linked To High Cholesterol
There are some factors associated with high cholesterol that can’t be changed. These increase your risk of having a heart attack or stroke. Doctors refer to these as “fixed factors”.
If you have a fixed risk factor, or several fixed risk factors, it’s important to look at any underlying conditions you may have which increase your risk. You may need to make some lifestyle changes.
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When Should High Cholesterol Be Treated With Medication
If youve had a heart attack, stroke, or have diabetes or been diagnosed with inherited high cholesterol, youll need to take one or more cholesterol-lowering medications, in addition to being careful with your diet and staying active. Statins can have a tremendous impact for lowering LDL cholesterol, says Khandwalla. Statins decrease your risk of illness and dying if youre in one of these high-risk groups.
In addition to statins, which should always be used first, other cholesterol-lowering drugs include fibrates, niacin, PCSK9 inhibitors, bile-acid sequestrants, and cholesterol absorption inhibitors, according to the CDC.
If you found out your cholesterol was high after a routine checkup, discuss your test results with your doctor. Your doctor will calculate your individual risk of heart attack or stroke to decide if you should be on a statin.
In some cases, the doctor may recommend giving a healthy diet and active lifestyle a try first. However, if your cholesterol levels remain high, you may need a heart scan to look for plaque buildup in your arteries, and your doctor may prescribe cholesterol-lowering drugs to lower your heart-disease and stroke risk.
Causes Of High Cholesterol
Eating too many foods that are high in cholesterol, saturated fats, and trans fats may increase your risk of developing high cholesterol. Living with obesity can also increase your risk. Other lifestyle factors that can contribute to high cholesterol include inactivity and smoking.
Your genetics can also affect your chances of developing high cholesterol. Genes are passed down from parents to children. Certain genes instruct your body on how to process cholesterol and fats. If your parents have high cholesterol, you may be at a greater risk of having it too.
In rare cases, high cholesterol is caused by familial hypercholesterolemia. This genetic disorder prevents your body from removing LDL. According to the National Human Genome Research Institute , most adults with this condition have total cholesterol levels above 300 milligrams per deciliter and LDL levels above 200 milligrams per deciliter.
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What To Do When High Cholesterol Runs In Your Family
Because high cholesterol doesnt have any symptoms, its not something thats commonly on peoples radar. Even if it is, people often dont take it seriously until they have a heart attack or stroke. And while we tend to think of those events as happening to an older population, people under the age of 55 can also be affected, especially if they were born with high cholesterol.
This condition is called familial hypercholesterolemia . FH is an inherited disorder that makes it harder for your body to remove low-density lipoprotein cholesterol from your blood. The result? From childhood, cholesterol builds up along the walls of your arteries and veins, narrowing the passageways and drastically increasing your risk of heart attack or stroke at a very early age.
What Happens To Your Body When You Have High Cholesterol
Food sustains all life forms and every time we eat food the body breaks it down into energy, proteins, nutrients and vitamins that are intrinsic for the human body to function as it should. However, incorrect food items and poor eating habits can have an adverse impact and lead to organ malfunction, illness and disease.
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Ways To Prevent High Cholesterol
You can prevent high cholesterol the same way you can help lower itby living a healthy lifestyle focused on a heart-healthy diet and exercise. Other strategies that can help prevent high cholesterol include:
- Quitting smoking
- Getting enough good quality sleep
- Limit alcohol intake
However, if you have familial hypercholesterolemia, you may not be able to prevent it. You can work with your doctor to detect it early and manage it to prevent complications.
Make The Changes Worth Making
If you have high blood cholesterol, making lifestyle changes is a great first step to lower your risk of heart disease. If those steps dont reduce your risk enough, your doctor may prescribe medications to help.
Remember: Making even modest changes now can help to prevent significant medical issues later. Do all you can to reduce your risk for the serious effects of heart attack and stroke.
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Dietary Tips To Avoid Cholesterol
The most important thing you can do to reduce your cholesterol level is to maintain a healthy lifestyle. You should try to:
- Increase the amount and variety of fresh fruit, vegetables and wholegrain foods you have each day.
- Choose low or reduced-fat milk, yoghurt and other dairy products or have added calcium soy drinks.
- Choose lean meat .
- Limit fatty meats, including sausages and salami, and choose leaner sandwich meats like turkey breast or cooked lean chicken.
- Have fish at least twice a week.
- Replace butter and dairy blends with polyunsaturated margarines.
- Include foods in your diet that are rich in soluble fibre and healthy fats, such as nuts, legumes and seeds.
- Limit cheese and ice cream to twice a week.
Other storage fats that are transported in blood lipoproteins include triglycerides. When present in high concentrations in the blood, this fat is also a risk for heart attack. Some foods will affect the cholesterol level or the triglyceride level and some will affect both.
Increased Risk Of Stroke
A stroke is a medical emergency that occurs when the blood supply to part of your brain is interrupted. If you have high cholesterol, the blood vessels in your brain can narrow along with vessels in the rest of your body.
A stroke can happen when a blood clot blocks blood flow or a narrowed artery significantly reduces blood flow. Signs of a stroke include sudden weakness, speech difficulty, vision changes, and dizziness. In the event of a stroke, its extremely important to seek immediate medical care to prevent severe complications or death.
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Hdl Cholesterol Or Good Cholesterol
HDL cholesterol is sometimes called good cholesterol. It helps return LDL cholesterol to your liver to be removed from your body. This helps prevent cholesterol plaque from building up in your arteries.
When you have healthy levels of HDL cholesterol, it can help lower your risk of blood clots, heart disease, and stroke.
How To Stay Safe
Taking your medication as prescribed and eating a low-sodium diet are keys to living a heart-healthy life. Adults over age 20 should have their cholesterol tested every five years, and individuals with a family history should be especially diligent.
To prevent high cholesterol:
- Eat heart-healthy foods like colorful vegetables and whole grains.
- Reduce saturated fats and eliminate trans fats. Saturated fats, found primarily in red meat and full-fat dairy products, are the biggest culprits in raising your total cholesterol, so they should be consumed in moderation. Junk food and processed meals may be high in trans fat and should be avoided.
- Lose weight.
- Exercise for at least 30 minutes a day.
- Quit smoking.
- Fresh fruits such as apples, strawberries, grapes, and citrus fruits
When lifestyle changes are coupled with strict adherence to social distancing protocols, the risk of catching COVID-19 plummets. To decrease your risk of infection:
- Limit the number of people you come into contact with.
- Wear a mask, especially around people.
- Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
- Wipe surfaces with sanitation wipes.
- If you are taking a cholesterol-lowering medicationsuch as a statinwithout major side effects, continue to take it unless told to do otherwise by a healthcare professional.
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