High Cholesterol is going a big problem nowadays. Cholesterol is a substance that naturally produced by your liver. It’s vital for the formation of cell membranes, vitamin D, and certain hormones.
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance. It doesn’t dissolve in water and therefore can’t travel through the blood by itself. Lipoproteins are other particles formed in the liver that help transport cholesterol through the bloodstream. There are several major forms of lipoproteins that are important to your health.
Low-density lipoproteins (LDL), also known as “bad cholesterol,” may build up in the arteries and lead to serious health problems like a heart attack or stroke. High-density lipoproteins (HDL), sometimes called “good cholesterol,” help return the LDL cholesterol to the liver for elimination.
Your liver produces all the cholesterol that you need, but fats and cholesterol are present in many of the foods we eat nowadays. Eating too many foods that contain excessive amounts of fat increase the level of LDL cholesterol in your blood. This is called having high cholesterol. High cholesterol is also called hypercholesterolemia. High cholesterol is especially dangerous when HDL cholesterol levels are too low and LDL cholesterol levels are too high.
High cholesterol typically causes no symptoms. It’s important to eat healthily and regularly monitor your cholesterol levels. When left untreated, high cholesterol can lead many health problems including a heart attack or stroke.
What Causes High Cholesterol?
High cholesterol is usually made worse by eating too many unhealthy foods that are high in cholesterol, saturated fats, and trans fats. Examples of foods that contribute to high cholesterol include:
- red meat
- liver and other organ meats
- full-fat dairy products like cheese, milk, ice cream, and butter
- eggs (the yolk)
- deep fried foods, like potato chips, french fries, fried chicken, and onion rings
- peanut butter
- some baked goods, like muffins
- processed foods made with cocoa butter, palm oil, or coconut oil
High cholesterol can also be genetic in many cases. This means that it’s not simply caused by food, but by the way in which your genes instruct your body to process cholesterol and fats. Genes are passed down from parents to children.
Other conditions like diabetes and hypothyroidism may also contribute to high cholesterol. Smoking can also increase cholesterol problems.
Who Is at Risk for High Cholesterol?
Over one-third of American adults have raised levels of LDL or “bad” cholesterol, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). People of all ages, ethnicities, and genders can have high cholesterol.
You may be at a higher risk of high cholesterol if you:
- have a family history of high cholesterol
- eat a diet containing an excessive amount of saturated fat
- are overweight or obese
- have diabetes, kidney disease, or hypothyroidism
What Are the Symptoms of High Cholesterol?
In most cases, high cholesterol is a silent problem that typically doesn’t cause any symptoms. For most people, if they have not had regular checkups and followed their cholesterol levels, their first symptoms are events like a heart attack or a stroke. In rare cases, there are familial syndromes where the cholesterol levels are extremely high (familial hypercholesterolemia). These people have cholesterol levels of 300 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) or higher. Such people may show symptoms of high cholesterol that are due to deposits of cholesterol (xanthomas) over their tendons or under their eyelids (xanthelasmas). While high cholesterol affects a large portion of the United States, familial hypercholesterolemia affects only about one in 500 people.
How Is High Cholesterol Diagnosed?
High cholesterol is very easy to diagnose with a blood test called a lipid panel. Your doctor will take a sample of blood and send it to a laboratory for analysis. Your doctor may ask that you don’t eat or drink anything (fast) for at least 12 hours prior to the test.
A lipid panel measures your total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, and triglycerides. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines the following blood cholesterol levels as “desirable”, or what you should aim for):
- total cholesterol: less than 200 mg/dL
- LDL cholesterol: less than 100 mg/dL
- HDL cholesterol: 40 mg/dL or higher
- triglycerides: less than 150 mg/dL
These recommendations are for the general, healthy public. Cholesterol levels may be different if you already have other conditions like diabetes. Your doctor can tell you what your healthy levels should be.