Types and Symptoms of High Cholesterol, and Keeping Yours in Check
Cholesterol is one of those words that people hear all the time, but they never really pay much attention to it until their cholesterol levels start becoming a risk for them. But statistics indicate that becomes the case for a LOT of people in America; high cholesterol is defined as having 240 milligrams per deciliter and up, and it’s estimated that currently 1 in 7 Americans with unhealthy cholesterol levels are high cholesterol. That gives you an idea of how prevalent this health risk is. High cholesterol can cause heart attack and stroke, so it’s very worthwhile to know the symptoms of high cholesterol AND what you can do to lower your cholesterol.
Some of you may still be asking what is cholesterol exactly, as well what causes high cholesterol. What might surprise some is that cholesterol is a lipid (fat) produced in the liver that you actually need, and for very important reasons. The problem is when you have too much of it and not a moderated, regular amount. It works as part of 3 essential functions in the body:
- Helping to make the outer coatings of cells
- Making up the bile acids that allows us to digest food in the intestines
- Allowing the body to make Vitamin D and hormones like testosterone for men, and estrogen for women
We’ll discuss the rest of that below, including distinguishing between the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ cholesterol and what you can do to keep yours at a healthy level.
Types of Cholesterol
As cholesterol is a fat, if it were to be introduced to the blood in large volumes it would form a congealed clump. The same way oil would in water. The body packages it in miniscule protein particles called lipoproteins to prevent it from doing that. The body can only process so much of it into these particles at a time so when you ingest more of it than you should through your diet, then you become prone to cholesterol buildups in the arteries.
If left unchecked, these buildups may become blockages and that’s when the heart attack or stroke risk starts becoming very real. With that functional explanation of what is cholesterol out of the way and an overview of how high cholesterol becomes problematic, we can move on to discussing the different types of cholesterol.
HDL Cholesterol– High-density lipoproteins (HDL) cholesterol has these lipoproteins carrying excess cholesterol back to the liver. There it is broken down and eliminated. HDL cholesterol is regarded as the ‘good’ cholesterol because the more of it you have, the lower your risk of developing heart disease.
LDL Cholesterol – Low-density lipoproteins (LDL) cholesterol has these lipoproteins carrying cholesterol to tissue in the body. That’s what makes LDL the ‘bad’ cholesterol, as it increases your risk of developing heart disease or having a stroke.
The combination of both types of cholesterol together creates your ‘total’ cholesterol levels. Any level upwards of 200mg / dL is considered unhealthy, and apparently nearly half of American adults have unhealthy levels.
Symptoms of High Cholesterol
One of the things that makes high cholesterol so dangerous is that it doesn’t have any readily-visible or identifiable cholesterol symptoms in the body. What we can define though is general poor health symptoms related to the existence of high cholesterol levels. If you are more than 10% overweight according to your BMI (body mass index) then you likely have high cholesterol. If you eat a diet that is high in foods with saturated or hydrogenated (trans) fats then you likely have it.
Other factors to note in lieu of actual symptoms of high cholesterol:
- Excessive inactivity (lack of exercise) – often tied to excess weight
- Smoking – raises LDL and lowers HDL. Oppositely, people who stop smoking experience an average increase of 5% for their HDL
- Certain medications – beta blockers used to treat high blood pressure (Tenormin, Zebeta, Toprol, Corgard, Inderal) / Prednisone for inflammation relief / Amiodarone for irregular heartbeat / Cyclosporine for immune system suppression / anabolic steroids / Protease inhibitors for HIV / Diuretics
How to Lower Cholesterol
As a rule, less than 10% of your daily calories should come from saturated fats and physicians recommend that adults over the age of 35 have their cholesterol levels checked once a year. Identifying high cholesterol early is important because it gives the individual a chance to reduce it via diet and lifestyle changes without having to go on one of the many types of cholesterol-lower medications (Lipitor, Lescol, Livalo, Pravachol, Zocor, and others).
The American Heart Association’s recommendation is that you limit your maximum intake of cholesterol to 300mg per day. This recommendation, however, is for people who are currently at healthy levels. Those with high cholesterol levels should reduce that to a maximum of 200mg per day.
Here’s the breakdown on defined cholesterol levels:
- Normal: 140 – 200mg / dl
- Borderline high: 200 – 239mg / dl
- High: 240mg / dl and above
One of the best ways to lower cholesterol is to drastically reduce or eliminate saturated and trans fat foods from your diet AND eating foods that lower cholesterol at the same time. Here are the top 5 foods that lower cholesterol:
- Oatmeal, oat bran, and other high-fiber foods
- Fish and omega-3 fatty acids like those found in abundance in salmon, mackerel, trout, herring, sardines and tune
- Walnuts, almonds, and other nuts that are rich in polyunsaturated fats
- Olive oil
- Foods with added plant sterols or stanols like sterol-added margarine, orange juice, or yogurt, among others
Pair those diet changes with more frequent cardiovascular exercise and you’ll be well on your way to reducing your cholesterol.
Get Infants Started Right
We’ll conclude here by saying that babies that are breastfed tend to have naturally lower LDL cholesterol levels as adults. New mothers are encouraged to engage in this beneficial and natural process for this reason – plus a whole host of many others. Breast milk is rich in healthy cholesterol and fats, which help prevent adult heart and central nervous system diseases