High blood cholesterol can be caused by a variety of causes, including lifestyle factors such as smoking, an unhealthy diet, and a lack of exercise, as well as an underlying ailment such as high blood pressure or diabetes. The most common form of cholesterol in the blood is known as low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. This number should be below 100 mg/dL to reduce your risk of heart disease.
Hypercholesterolemia is the term used to describe an elevated level of cholesterol in the blood. If you have this condition, your doctor will want to determine the cause so that appropriate treatment can be prescribed.
There are several types of hypercholesterolemia.
Many variables, including heredity, can influence cholesterol levels in the blood. If you have a close family who has high cholesterol, you are more likely to have it as well. However, several lifestyle variables, notably food and exercise, influence cholesterol levels. Changing your diet and being more active can help reduce its effects.
The two main types of cholesterol are low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL). Higher levels of LDL and lower levels of HDL are associated with an increased risk of heart disease.
Blood cholesterol is regulated by hormones and proteins produced by the body's organs. These include the liver, which makes most of the cholesterol in the body; the small intestine, which absorbs the cholesterol; and the muscles, lungs, and heart itself, which use the cholesterol for building membranes and healthy cells. The amount of cholesterol in the blood may increase due to factors such as eating too much fat or sugar or not enough fruits and vegetables. It may also decrease if you eat foods that are high in fiber, such as grains, beans, and veggies. Regular exercise can help keep cholesterol levels normal.
Cholesterol is used to make certain hormones and other substances needed by the body. Foods containing cholesterol will pass through the digestive system undigested. The digestive system uses the energy from the digestion process to move food through the stomach and intestines.
High cholesterol puts you at risk for heart disease, which is the leading cause of death in both men and women in the United States today. Heavy blood cholesterol levels in some people are caused by a diet high in saturated fat and animal products, while in others, high cholesterol is genetically inherited; it runs in families.
The more risk factors you have, the greater your chance of suffering a heart attack or stroke. According to the American Heart Association, half of all men and women over the age of 20 have at least one risk factor for heart disease.
Being male, young, or African-American increases your risk of heart disease dramatically if you have no other health problems. If you do have other health concerns, such as high blood pressure or diabetes, you still need to control your cholesterol to reduce your risk of heart disease.
Your doctor will check your cholesterol levels regularly. He or she will also look at other indicators that can help predict how likely you are to develop heart disease, such as obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
Based on what you learn from your doctor, you and he or she may decide on a treatment plan to lower your bad cholesterol and increase your good cholesterol.
If you have high blood pressure, your doctor may recommend that you change your diet to include more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fish, and legumes.
The combination of fats and carbs in your diet has the greatest impact on blood cholesterol levels, not the amount of cholesterol you consume. Fat and cholesterol work together in your body to produce hormones and other substances that regulate blood clotting, cell growth, and immune function. Too much fat in your diet can increase blood cholesterol levels, while too little fat can lead to more serious health problems down the road.
Carbs are the main source of energy for your body, so it makes sense that they would have an effect on blood cholesterol levels. The type of carb you eat plays a role in this relationship as well. Starchy carbs like potatoes, bread, and pasta raise blood sugar levels quickly and significantly affect lipid (fat) metabolism. Refined grains like white flour, candy, and cookies contain very little fiber or nutrition but add plenty of glucose to your bloodstream. This high level of sugar in your blood slows the release of insulin, which is necessary to transport lipids (fats) out of your liver and into your cells where they can be used for energy. As you can see, there is a direct correlation between starch intake and cholesterol levels.
Fruit contains vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants -- all of which help prevent heart disease -- but it's the type of fruit that matters most.
Obesity increases the likelihood of having high cholesterol. Triglycerides and LDL—or "bad" cholesterol—are often elevated in obese people. HDL, or "good" cholesterol, is insufficient. This raises your chances of developing heart disease, having a heart attack, or having a stroke.
Being overweight or obese can increase your risk of having high blood pressure, diabetes, hyperlipidemia (an abnormal amount of lipids in the blood), kidney problems, osteoarthritis, sleep apnea, respiratory problems, anxiety, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Obesity also leads to more visits to the emergency room and admission to the hospital for people without chronic illnesses. It can also lead to premature death from causes such as heart disease, cancer, and Type 2 diabetes.
Losing weight can lower your risk of some of these diseases and conditions.
It contributes significantly to the development of atherosclerosis, or artery hardening and narrowing, which increases the risk of heart attack and stroke. Doctors refer to high cholesterol as the amount of the chemical circulating in the blood rather than the amount of cholesterol a person consumes. High levels can also be caused by other factors such as genetics, age, and obesity.
Cholesterol is a fat-like substance that occurs naturally in your body. Your liver makes most of it, but you can also get cholesterol from food. There are different types of cholesterol: low-density lipoprotein (LDL), medium-density lipoprotein (MDL), and high-density lipoprotein (HDL). Your body needs some LDL to function properly. Too much LDL increases your risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
Your body uses HDL to remove excess cholesterol from cells to recycle them back into action. When your HDL levels are low, more cholesterol accumulates in the walls of your arteries causing them to harden. This process begins even before you develop any symptoms of cardiovascular disease.
High cholesterol levels increase your risk of having a heart attack or stroke. If you have cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol levels may need treatment to reduce your risk of having another event. Otherwise, there is no reason for you to worry about your cholesterol level.