Cholesterol is a type of fat that is inherent and vital for the body of all animals, including us – humans. Every cell in our body needs cholesterol, which is part of the construction of cell membranes and determines their selective permeability. Cholesterol is used by the liver to produce bile juice, which together with digestive enzymes helps us break down food and absorb its valuable substances.
If, for some reason, the balance in our body is disturbed and cholesterol levels in the blood serum rise, this can create the conditions for an increase in our cardiovascular risk. The medical term for high cholesterol is hypercholesterolemia. We call high cholesterol the condition characterized by elevated levels of atherogenic lipoproteins in the bloodstream. But what does that mean?
Because cholesterol and fat are not water-soluble, and blood is composed mostly of water, these vital substances are transported to their destinations by water-soluble particles called lipoproteins. However, part of the lipoproteins in question can accumulate in the walls of the arteries in the form of fatty deposits, forming atherosclerotic plaques. The growth of these accumulations hinders blood circulation, disrupts vascular flexibility and creates conditions for the formation of clots – all factors for cardiovascular and cerebrovascular accidents.
High cholesterol can be inherited, but it is often the result of an unhealthy lifestyle, and in the latter case, it is preventable and treatable with a balanced diet, regular exercise, certain nutritional supplements and, if necessary, medication.
Causes of increased cholesterol
Among the causes of high cholesterol and triglycerides are a number of controllable factors such as sedentary lifestyle, unhealthy diet and obesity. There are also uncontrollable factors, including genetics, that affect the body’s ability to remove LDL (“bad cholesterol”) from the bloodstream.
There are also some medical conditions associated with a worsened lipid profile, such as: chronic kidney failure, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, hypothyroidism, lupus, fatty liver.
Lipid status can also be worsened by certain medications taken for conditions such as: acne, cancer, high blood pressure, HIV/AIDS, arrhythmia, organ transplant.
How to protect ourselves?
Do not consume sources of trans fats, limit sources of animal fats and replace them with sources of minimally processed poly- and monounsaturated fatty acids (safflower oil, sunflower oil, olive oil).
Eat plenty of vegetables, fruits, legumes and whole grains and reduce the sources of simple sugars in your diet.
Eat a low-sodium diet – limit salt or replace it with potassium.
Maintain a normal body weight.
Move at least 30 minutes a day and exercise most days of the week.
Do not drink alcohol, or if you do, be moderate and do not consume daily.
Manage stress and take care of your sleep quality.
Control blood sugar levels and blood pressure. Try to keep your serum glucose and blood pressure levels within the normal range by following your doctor’s advice, especially if you suffer from diabetes or hypertension.
Symptoms of high cholesterol
The only way to diagnose high cholesterol is a blood test, and regular measurement of blood serum lipid levels can start as early as 9–11 years of age and be carried out every 5 years. Preventive cholesterol measurement for men aged 45 to 65 and for women between 55 and 65 should be carried out every 2 years, and for persons over 65 the optimal regularity is annual.
High Cholesterol Supplements and Medications
Common medications used to treat high cholesterol include:
Statins are one of the most popular cholesterol-lowering drugs. Their action is based on their ability to reduce cholesterol synthesis in the liver, promoting the sequestration of cholesterol available in the bloodstream. Some of the popular statins are:
Statins are not suitable for every patient with high cholesterol, especially those with liver problems.
Bile acid sequestrants
This class of drugs, also known as ion exchange resins, are not absorbed by the gut and bind to bile acids, eliminating them from the digestive system. The liver is forced to compensate for this by producing more bile juice, using the cholesterol available in the bloodstream for this purpose. This, in turn, leads to a reduction in blood cholesterol levels. These resins are not universally suitable and side effects of their use include constipation and stomach pain.
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