Anything that is taken in excess will always do more harm than good. While we are thinking of how we can sustain energy by popping food into our mouths, we should realize that not everything should be taken that often.
Just like drinking alcohol, food should be taken in moderation in order to achieve a better health.
A good indicator of health is cholesterol level. If the cholesterol level has exceeded the normal value, it may mean something that would eventually become a health risk if it is not given attention. Too much cholesterol in the body may be an indicator of illnesses that affects the kidneys, liver, eyes and most especially the heart.
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is the plaque formation found inside the blood vessels that comes from over-consumption of fatty food. It is a fat-based organic molecule that is only found in animal-based foods.
Although cholesterol may be more linked to a negative reputation, people should be aware that cholesterol is also essential for building the fatty phospholipids in all animals including humans.
The other substance needed for better functioning of cell membranes are glycolipids. Together, they play a huge part in the over-all health of humans.
The presence of cholesterol in the body helps in maintaining the flexible shape of the body, but excess cholesterol can form as plaque between layers of the arterial walls which will make it difficult to have proper circulation of blood to the heart.
Plaque formation may eventually cause blood clots. If the clot happens to block an artery that feeds the brain, then it can cause a stroke. If the clot blocks an artery that leads to the heart, then it may cause a heart attack.
Plants (in the form of vegetables) also contain minute amounts of cholesterol that are made up of cellulose. Consuming more vegetables will not lead to unfavorable conditions. This is one good reason why people are encouraged to eat more vegetables.
Importance of Cholesterol
Cholesterol is essential for life as it is required for the normal functioning of cells. The body has the ability to produce cholesterol that is mostly found in the cells and blood. According to the American Heart Association, about 75% of cholesterol is produced in the body.
Here are some body parts and components that involve the use of cholesterol:
- Liver: This is responsible for producing cholesterol in the body that helps to synthesize cholesterol in maintaining healthy cells and hormones within appropriate level.
- Cell membrane: Cholesterol plays a vital role in maintaining the health of cell membranes with the help of nutrients and oxygen.
- Vitamin D: The presence of cholesterol allows production of Vitamin D which is created when skin is exposed to sunlight.
- Bile Salts: These are products of cholesterol that plays a huge part in fat absorption within the digestive tract.
- Hormone Synthesis: Cholesterol is needed for producing hormones such as cortisol, estrogen, progesterone and testosterone.
- Nerve Fibers: Nerve fibers are encased in a fat layer called myelin sheath which is made up of cholesterol which acts as an insulator of the body.
Basic Kind of Insoluble Fat Compounds
Cholesterol is needed by the body in helping proper functioning and improvement of the over-all health of humans. It is best to know what kind of food and the amount of food to be taken.
- Triglycerides are body fats of humans that also come from our protein sources of food such as pork, beef and chicken. The body breaks down triglycerides to obtain glucose that is stored as excess energy.
- Phospholipids, on the other hand, make up all the cell membranes in the body and are responsible in choosing what should be absorbed in the body and what should be eliminated.
- Sterols are made up of cholesterol, adrenal hormones, bile, sex hormones and Vitamin D.
Types of Cholesterol
Cholesterol comes in two basic types: good and bad. It should be noted that too much of one type of cholesterol or not having enough may put anyone at risk of having coronary heart disease, stroke or heart attack.
Also known as high-density lipoprotein (HDL), good cholesterol is named as such because it aids in eliminating other forms of cholesterol in the bloodstream. There is a much lower risk of having a heart disease if there are higher levels of HDL cholesterol. It takes back excess cholesterol in the liver where it is broken down and then eliminated from the body.
Desirable level of HDL:
Men: 60 mg/dl (1.6 mmol/L) or above
Women: 60 mg/dl (1.6 mmol/L) or above
Undesirable level of HDL:
Men: less than 40 mg/dl (1.0 mmol/L)
Women: less than 50 mg/dl (1.3 mmol/L)
People with naturally higher levels of HDL are less likely to experience heart attacks and stroke. However, further studies are still needed to prove if the same benefit can be accounted for people who have increased their HDL levels with the aid of medication.
Ways on how to increase HDL and lower the risk of heart attacks include having regular exercise, quitting smoking, and improving food choices.
This is also known as low-density lipoprotein (LDL). High levels of LDL may eventually lead to build-up within the walls of the blood vessels which can cause narrowing of the blood flow.
Clot formation may ensue which can get stuck within the narrowed space and may eventually lead to a heart attack or stroke. It is for this reason that LDL is known as “bad cholesterol”.
How to Test for Cholesterol Level
It is advised that individuals as young as 20 years old must have their cholesterol levels measured at least once every five years.
The procedure used in checking cholesterol level is called lipoprotein panel or lipid test. Submitting to this kind of test will determine whether you are at risk of having coronary heart disease by checking the substances in your body. There is a need to abstain from consuming food (fasting) for at least 9-12 hours prior to extraction of blood.
The blood test will reveal the following information:
- Total cholesterol: It is the measurement of the total amount of cholesterol found in the body which includes both the high-density lipoprotein and low-density lipoprotein.
- LDL: It is the main source of plaque build up from the arterial walls.
- HDL: It removes excess cholesterol from the arteries.
- Triglycerides: It’s a form of fat that can be a contributing factor to having heart disease.
Factors that affect LDL level include the following:
- Age (women aged 55 years or older, men aged 45 years or older)
- Cigarette smoking
- Family history
- Low HDL (of less than 40 mg/dl)
- High blood pressure (140/90 mmHg or higher)
How to Interpret Cholesterol Level Results
Cholesterol levels are measured in milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL). Below are the general guidelines to be able to interpret your test results.
|Total Cholesterol Level||Category|
|Less than 200 mg/dL||Desirable|
|240/dL and above||High|
|LDL (Bad) Cholesterol Level||LDL Cholesterol Category|
|Less than 100 ng/dL||Optimal|
|100-129 mg/dL||Near optimal/above optimal|
|130-159 mg/dL||Borderline High|
|190 mg/dL and above||Very High|
|High (Good) Cholesterol Level||HDL Cholesterol Category|
|Less than 40 mg/dL||Major risk for heart disease|
|60 mg/dL and higher||Considered protective against heart disease|
|Below 150 mg/dL||Desirable|
|150-199 mg/dL||Borderline High|
|500 mg/dL and above||Very High|
What Affects Cholesterol Level?
There are a number of reasons that can affect the cholesterol level. Therefore, these should be your basis on how to maintain a good cholesterol level in the body.
- Age and Gender: The cholesterol level in the body increases as an individual gets older. Women may have lower cholesterol level before menopause but LDL levels tend to rise after menopause.
- Diet: Food with saturated fat and cholesterol gives rise to an elevated blood cholesterol level. Choosing food that has low saturated fat and cholesterol can help in lower the blood cholesterol level.
- Heredity: Genes may also affect how much cholesterol the body may produce, which makes individuals who have a family history of high blood cholesterol more prone to having the same condition.
- Physical Activity: It is best to incorporate exercise among the daily activities, as it helps lower the LDL level and body weight. At least 30 minutes of physical activity a day is enough.
- Weight: Notice how young people can be diagnosed with high blood pressure? This is because of the improper choice and intake of food that leads to obesity. Overweight individuals have a higher risk of getting heart disease.
Lowering Cholesterol Through Lifestyle Change
It is important to be aware of the right diet that should become a part of an individual’s lifestyle to prevent not just heart disease but all other kinds of health conditions as well.
A good diet should include a variety of nutritious food like fruits, vegetables, whole grain products, fish, poultry (without the skin), low-fat or nonfat dairy products, and lean meat in moderate amounts. There should also be an increase in soluble fiber to help lower LDL cholesterol level to obtain optimum health.
Weight management is important. Proper diet plus exercise is the key in maintain a good health. Regular exercise of at least 30 minutes a day is recommended.
Individuals who have high cholesterol level may need to take medications to help them lower their risks of having heart diseases. Such medications include:
- Cholesterol absorption inhibitors: decrease the absorption of cholesterol from food.
- Bile acid sequestrants: decrease the amount of fat absorbed from food such as cholesterymine, colesevelam and colestipol.
- Statins: act as barrier of liver from making cholesterol.
- Vitamins and supplements, such as the following:
- Omega-fatty acids: increase the level of HDL and help lower tryiglycerides.
- Niacin: blocks the liver from removing HDL as well as lowers triglycerides.
Cholesterol may have had a negative connotation. However, our body also needs them to sustain our health. Proper knowledge about which food should be avoided is of utmost importance.
When we neglect to choose the right amount of food as well as not involve ourselves with enough physical activity, our bodies become more prone to different kinds of diseases. Minding your cholesterol level is an important factor in maintaining a healthy lifestyle.