Cholesterol is associated most with heart attacks. High levels of cholesterol are a major risk factor for heart attack. But do you know what causes those high levels of cholesterol?
In this article, we’ll discuss what cholesterol is, why it’s bad for you—and sometimes good for you, and how to keep your levels in balance.
What is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a waxy substance similar in structure to fat. It’s main role is to help produce hormones such as estrogen, testosterone, and cortisone. It’s also involved in Vitamin D production.
Your body makes all the cholesterol it needs; it’s rare for cholesterol levels to sink too low. Too much cholesterol in the blood becomes a problem when it combines with other substances and forms plaque. The plaque can build up on the walls of your arteries, resulting in atherosclerosis—a leading cause of heart attack and stroke.
There are three different types of cholesterol:
- HDL—high-density lipoprotein. This is often called “good” cholesterol. It’s responsible for moving cholesterol from around your body back to your liver for digestion and elimination.
- LDL—low-density lipoprotein. This is considered the “bad” cholesterol, because too much of it can cause the plaque build up in the arteries. In truth, LDL is only bad for you when the level of it in your blood blood becomes too high.
- VLDL—very low-density lipoprotein. This is another form of “bad” LDL that carries triglycerides—fat cells—instead of cholesterol.
The goal is to keep your overall cholesterol levels down, and your HDL and LDLs in good balance.
There are no symptoms associated with high cholesterol. The only way to find out is with a routine blood test. Men 45 and older, and women 55 and older, should have their cholesterol levels checked every year or two.
What Causes High Cholesterol?
The most common cause of high cholesterol is unhealthy habits and lifestyle. Here are the top lifestyle causes of high cholesterol:
- Eating a lot of saturated and trans fats. Foods that contain saturated fats are some red meats, dairy products, deep-fried foods, and processed foods. Trans fats are also found in deep-fried and processed foods. While some saturated fat is beneficial for your body, eating too much of it can dangerously raise your LDL cholesterol levels. Trans fats do not offer any benefit to your body at all, but can cause your cholesterol to shoot up.
- Spending a lot of time sitting, with little exercise can lower HDL cholesterol levels.
- Smoking not only lowers HDL levels, it also raises your LDL levels.
Some people also have a genetic propensity toward high cholesterol. People in that category need to watch their lifestyle even more than the general population.
How Can I Lower My Cholesterol?
Talk with your doctor about the best changes to make in your specific situation. Generally, you can begin with making some heart-healthy lifestyle changes. Overhaul your diet, start working out more, and manage your weight.
If lifestyle changes alone don’t lower your cholesterol enough, your doctor may put you on medication. The most common drugs for cholesterol are statins, which lower LDL levels and raise HDL. This helps prevent plaque from forming.
High cholesterol is common among older Americans, and we can all benefit from changing our diet and lifestyle to a more heart-healthy option. In my next post, we’ll explore one such option that experts say is the perfect diet for your heart.