Cholesterol is a waxy substance found in the fats (lipids) in the blood. Cholesterol is necessary for the development of healthy cells; however, too much cholesterol increases the risk of heart disease.
High cholesterol enables fatty deposits to develop in the blood vessels, which eventually narrow the blood vessels causing difficulties for enough blood to flow through the arteries. As a result the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the heart is reduced, which may lead to a heart attack while decreased blood flow to the brain can cause a stroke.
High cholesterol (hypercholesterolemia) is usually the result of poor diet or unhealthy lifestyle but it can be prevented and treated by a healthy diet, regular exercise and medications.
High cholesterol has no signs or symptoms. The only way to detect high cholesterol is through a blood test.
Cholesterol is carried through the blood attached to proteins (lipoprotein). There are different types of cholesterol:
- Low-density lipoprotein (LDL): LDL is considered “bad” cholesterol, which transports cholesterol particles throughout the body. LDL cholesterol builds up in the walls of the arteries making them hard and narrow.
- Very low-density lipoprotein (VLDL): This lipoprotein contains the most triglycerides (a type of fat) attached to the proteins in the blood. VLDL cholesterol increases the size of LDL cholesterol and causes the blood vessels to narrow.
- High-density lipoprotein (HDL): HDL or “good” cholesterol takes the excess cholesterol back to the liver.
Poor diet, inactivity and obesity contribute to high LDL cholesterol and low HDL cholesterol.
Risk factors for high cholesterol include:
- Large waist circumference
- Poor diet
- Lack of exercise
- Diabetes (High blood sugar contributes to higher LDL cholesterol)
High cholesterol can lead to accumulation of cholesterol and other deposits on the walls of the arteries (artherosclerosis). The plaques reduce blood flow in the arteries and may cause the following complications:
- Chest pain
- Heart attack
The following tips can help prevent high cholesterol:
- Losing extra pounds
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Healthy diet
- Regular exercise
- Quitting smoking
- Avoiding alcohol