Cholesterol is an organic molecule that is waxy and fat-like in texture. Cholesterol is found in all cells of the human body. It composes about 30% of all animal cells and is essential for the sustenance of life. It is not possible for animal cells to survive in the absence of cholesterol. It is by virtue of cholesterol, that the cellular membranes have fluidity. Cholesterol is needed by our bodies to synthesise Vitamin D and serves as a basis for all steroidal hormones.
Since cholesterol is so critical for survival, our body has an internal 37-step mechanism to synthesize it. The body of an average human male (150 lb) synthesises about 1 gram of cholesterol daily. However, when cholesterol is ingested, it is esterified. The body fails to absorb esterified cholesterol. This is the reason why the cholesterol ingested with food does not condition, if not a bit, the blood’s cholesterol-levels, even after 7-10 hours of consuming it. However, when lipoproteins start distributing absorbed fats within extracellular water, the concentration rises. Cholesterol starts to accumulate in the arteries.
High Blood Cholesterol
High blood cholesterol is a condition in which the levels of cholesterol in the blood are higher than the desired levels.
High blood cholesterol is a condition that does not produce any symptoms by itself, which is why it usually goes undiagnosed. However, if ignored, high blood cholesterol can prove to be fatal.
Diseases Caused By High Blood Cholesterol
High levels of cholesterol in the blood can trigger many diseases, some of which are life-threatening. When your cholesterol levels are high, it starts accumulating in your arteries. Along with calcium and fat, it forms “plaque” which hardens with time and narrows (and eventually blocks) the arteries. This condition is known as atherosclerosis.
Hypertension- Hypertension, or “high blood pressure”, in layman’s terms is a condition in which a person’s blood pressure (the pressure exerted by the blood on the walls of the arteries) is elevated. This happens since the heart has to strain a lot harder to pump blood through clogged arteries.
Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD)- Due to the build up plaque in the peripheral arteries, the blood flow to the arms, legs and stomach (most commonly, the legs) gets restricted. This condition is very similar in nature to coronary artery disease.
Stroke- Blood vessels are responsible for carrying oxygen and nutrients to the various parts of our body. However, when plaque builds up on the inner-walls, there is a high chance of the vessels getting completely blocked or bursting (due to elevated pressure). When a vessel carrying blood to the brain gets blocked, or busts, the condition is known as ‘stroke’. The part of the brain that vessel is responsible for carrying blood to stops getting the oxygen it needs, and slowly starts dying.
Type-2 Diabetes- Type-2 diabetes is a condition that concerns the metabolism of a person. It is characterised by low levels of insulin and high levels of blood sugar along with insulin resistance.
Coronary Heart Disease- The key risk associated with high cholesterol is Coronary Heart Disease or CHD. The plaque buildup causes the blood vessels to narrow down, which, in turn, results in a restricted flow of blood to and from the heart. This results in another condition known as Angina (Chest Pain). Angina is nothing but a pain that arises in the chest on account of the inadequate flow of blood to the heart. In severe cases, when the blood vessels are completely blocked, the person suffers a heart attack and the cardiac muscles start to die.
How To Maintain Healthy Blood Cholesterol Levels
High Blood Cholesterol is a lifestyle disease. Even the small steps taken in the direction of a healthy lifestyle can have a significant impact on the levels of cholesterol in the blood.
A Diet That Consists Of Heart Healthy Foods- Despite the misconception, NOT ALL FATS ARE BAD. However, it is our job to differentiate the “good” fats from the “bad” ones. Saturated fats (the fats found in dairy produce and red meat) are to be avoided. Another type of unhealthy fats is Trans Fats, which are primarily found in commercial food products. Even if a product label reads “Trans Fat-Free”, it can contain up to 0.5g of trans fat per serving by law. Have a diet that is rich in Omega-3 Fatty Acids (found primarily in salmon, walnuts almonds and flax-seeds). Increase your intake of soluble fibre (found in beans, lentils, fruits etc.) and whey protein.
Physical Activity- Try to exercise on every day of the week. This can help keep cholesterol in check. Dedicate at least 30 minutes of your day to exercise. If nothing, try taking a brisk walk or cycling your way to work and back home.
Bid Adieu To Cigarettes- It is hard to believe, but your blood pressure and your heart rate begin to stabilize within 30 minutes of quitting. 15 years down the line, your chances of getting heart disease will be just as good as someone who has never smoked a cigarette.
Medicines That Reduce The Level Of Cholesterol
Statins- Statins bring to a halt the mechanism through which one’s body synthesises cholesterol. They block the production of a particular enzyme that aids the process of cholesterol synthesis and is produced by the liver. Statins are of the following types- atorvastatin, simvastatin and rosuvastatin. Once a person starts taking statins, they are to be taken for life. Hence, they are only prescribed in cases where the patient is at a dangerously high risk of heart diseases. Once the patient stops taking statins, the level of cholesterol in the blood begins to rise again.
Aspirin- Aspirin is known to reduce the clogging action of platelets (platelets are responsible for making our blood clot). A regular and a mild dose of aspirin can avoid the blood from clotting and helps it flow through the blood vessels with ease. Usually, patients who have had a heart attack are advised to take aspirin.
Ezetimibe- While Statins stop cholesterol from being synthesised, Ezetimibe stops the body from absorbing it. It is generally not as effective as Statins, but it is less likely to produce adverse/side effects.