Cholesterol – Is It REALLY Bad For You? Find Out The Truth

Cholestrol by Perfect Health Magazine

Cholesterol - Quick 30 Seconds Summary

  • Cholesterol is a waxy lipid substance found in the human body. It is produced by the liver and sent to all cells within the body. 
  • High cholesterol is a medical condition where excess cholesterol forms plaque like deposits around the arteries. Essentially it begins narrowing the arteries and slowing down the blood flowand narrows them down. 
  • LDL, HDL and VLDL are different types of lipoproteins that form the total cholesterol in the body. 
  • High cholesterol has no symptoms and can be diagnosed with a blood test. 
  • Risks associated with high cholesterol include heart attack and stroke. 
  • It is treatable with medication and lifestyle changes.

Cholesterol - Meaning & Overview

Cholesterol is a natural substance in the lipid family found in the human body. It assists in the production of hormones, Vitamin D and other digestive fluids. The texture of cholesterol is waxy and fat-like and it is found in all cells of your body. The liver is the main centre of cholesterol production.

Out of the total 100% cholesterol needed by the body, 75% is produced by the liver while 25% is acquired through food from the outside. The food sources of cholesterol include meat, poultry, eggs and all dairy products. 

Cholesterol is not soluble in water, and cannot be transported from one place to the other via blood. The liver creates lipoproteins to move cholesterol from one part of the body to another. 

Cholesterol in itself is not a medical condition or disease. In fact, the natural production and distribution of cholesterol is a sign of a healthy body. However, high cholesterol is a medical issue and raised cholesterol may lead to heart problems and stroke. 

According to the World Health Organisation, one-third of ischaemic heart disease is attributable to high cholesterol. Therefore, it is important for you to understand the symptoms, causes, treatments and long term management options of high cholesterol.

High Cholesterol - Meaning

An excess of cholesterol in the body is known as high cholesterol by medical experts. As mentioned earlier, cholesterol is not a clear liquid, it is a combination of fat and protein. It is thicker and waxier than blood. 

High cholesterol combines with blood and begins forming a plaque around the blood arteries. Essentially it begins narrowing the arteries and slowing down the blood flow. This is dangerous and is often termed as a silent killer like high blood pressure. The worst possible outcome of high cholesterol is creating clots and blockages that could lead to heart attacks or strokes.

Types of Cholesterol

Cholesterol is a broad term and can be subdivided into different categories based on the role each category plays. This subdivision is important because it helps in understanding the fundamentals of the high cholesterol medical condition. 

The lipoproteins that carry cholesterol from one part of the body to the other form the different types of cholesterol. They are as follows: 

  • Low-density Lipoprotein (LDL): LDL is often referred to as the “bad cholesterol” because higher levels of LDL form plaque around the arteries narrowing them down considerably. LDL carries cholesterol from the liver to other parts of the body. 
  • High-density Lipoprotein (HDL): HDL is the “good cholesterol” in the body. Its role is to carry cholesterol which has served its purpose back to the liver, wherein the liver then removes it from the body. 

Very Low-density Lipoprotein (VLDL):  VLDL’s main role is to carry triglycerides from the liver to other parts of the body.

Symptoms of High Cholesterol

The most dangerous thing about high cholesterol is the lack of symptoms. There are no visible symptoms of raised cholesterol levels in the body. It is a silent medical condition that slowly grows within the body over time.

Diagnosis of High Cholesterol

Cholesterol can be diagnosed only through a blood test where the fasting lipid profile is checked. This gives accurate results and you can check whether your numbers are within the desirable range or outside the desirable range. When the numbers move outside the desirable range the person is diagnosed with “high cholesterol” by medical practitioners. 

Cholesterol is measured in milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL). A lipid profile report contains the following parameters: 

  • Total Cholesterol: This number shows the total cholesterol within the body. 
  • Non-HDL: Under this head, the calculation is total cholesterol minus HDL. Non-HDL includes LDL and VLDL. 
  • LDL: The number of Low-density Lipoprotein in the body. 
  • HDL: You will find the measurement of High-density Lipoprotein under this parameter. 

According to the American National Library of Medicine, following is the description of healthy levels of cholesterol for various age groups: 

Age group: 19 or younger

Type of Cholesterol

Healthy Level

Total Cholesterol

Less than 170mg/dL

Non-HDL

Less than 120mg/dL

LDL

Less than 100mg/dL

HDL

More than 45mg/dL

Age Group: 20 and older (Gender: Male)

Type of Cholesterol

Healthy Level

Total Cholesterol

125 to 200mg/dL

Non-HDL

Less than 130mg/dL

LDL

Less than 100mg/dL

HDL

40mg/dL or higher

Age Group: 20 and older (Gender: Female)

Type of Cholesterol

Healthy Level

Total Cholesterol

125 to 200mg/dL

Non-HDL

Less than 130mg/dL

LDL

Less than 100mg/dL

HDL

50mg/dL or higher

Causes of High Cholesterol

When it comes to increased levels of cholesterol there are some causes that can be controlled or avoided by taking the right steps but some causes are beyond the control of the patient. 

Here’s a list of causes of high cholesterol that can be controlled: 

  • Obesity: Obesity is a major cause of elevated levels of cholesterol. The increased level of fat in the body and inactivity causes high cholesterol in obese individuals. 
  • Unhealthy Diet: When a person eats foods rich in saturated fats and trans fats it increases cholesterol in the body. Deep-fried food, junk food, baked goods and sugary food choices lead to high cholesterol. 
  • Sedentary Lifestyle: A lifestyle where the individual is physically inactive for long hours causes high cholesterol. Little or no exercise has ill effects on the body such as raised cholesterol levels. 

Now, let us outline the causes of high cholesterol that are beyond your control: 

  • Genetic factors: High blood cholesterol runs in the family. So you may inherit it from your parents as part of your genetic composition. 
  • Medical conditions: Existing medical conditions may cause high cholesterol and you will have no control over this factor. Chronic diabetes, hyperthyroidism, kidney disease, lupus and HIV/AIDS can cause high cholesterol.

Risks Associated with High Cholesterol

Many people are under the wrong impression that cholesterol in itself is a risky medical condition. This is false. Only high cholesterol is a medical condition that proves to be dangerous because of the lack of symptoms and other health risks it causes. 

  • Atherosclerosis: Unnaturally high cholesterol leads to plaque build-up and fat deposits in the blood vessels. This causes a condition called atherosclerosis where the blood vessels carrying blood, oxygen and other nutrients become stiff and thick over time. 
  • Blood Clots: Raised cholesterol narrows the arteries sometimes to the point of clotting. Blood clots due to cholesterol can burst or lead to strokes and heart trouble. 
  • Chest Pain: Less blood flow due to high cholesterol can cause angina or chest pain in the patient. 
  • Heart Attack: In many cases when the arteries are too clogged by cholesterol deposits a patient may suffer from a heart attack. 
  • Stroke: A stroke is a very serious condition where the blood flow to the brain is interrupted. Narrowed arteries due to high cholesterol can cause a brain stroke.

Treatments for High Cholesterol

Cholesterol is not a life threatening disease, it is a medical condition that can be treated and managed by the patient. Medication and changes in lifestyle are the two main tools to tackle high cholesterol.

Medication for High Cholesterol

There a variety of medications available to treat high cholesterol. Medicines from the Statin family of drugs are generally prescribed by medical practitioners to lower cholesterol levels and maintain the heart health of the patients. 

Some drugs from the statins include:

  • atorvastatin (Lipitor)
  • fluvastatin (Lescol)
  • rosuvastatin (Crestor)
  • simvastatin (Zocor)

In certain cases other medicines are also prescribed for high cholesterol such as: 

  • niacin
  • bile acid resins or sequestrants, such as colesevalam (Welchol), colestipol (Colestid), or cholestyramine (Prevalite)
  • cholesterol absorption inhibitors, such as ezetimibe (Zetia)
  • PCSK9 inhibitors, such as alirocumab (Praluent) and evolocumab (Repatha)

The dosage and the duration of the prescription will depend upon the individual case. Consult a doctor before taking any of the above mentioned drugs.

Lifestyle changes for High Cholesterol

  • Put a full stop to all alcohol and tobacco consumption immediately. These are very harmful substances and can lead to increased risks of angina and heart attacks. 
  • Changes in dietary habits are also a must if you are suffering from high cholesterol issues. Consciously eat heart healthy foods such as salads, fruits, vegetables etc. for better health. Avoid eating fried foods, desserts with high quantities of sugar and red meats. Stick to food that is cooked with small quantities of oil, less salt and less spices. 
  • Regular exercise is an important step in lowering cholesterol levels naturally. Engaging in a physical activity on an everyday basis works wonders for lowering cholesterol levels and maintaining them over time.

Depression - Concluding Remarks

Cholesterol is a natural substance produced by the body and needed by the body for essential functions such as gatekeeping of cell membranes and production of hormones. However high cholesterol or increase in bad cholesterol in the body causes problems for the patient. Cholesterol can be lowered by medication and lifestyle changes. It is 100% treatable and not a serious condition if managed properly.