Many of us just recently enjoyed a Superbowl Sunday indulging in delicious food like sausages, chips, dips, wings, and more. While enjoying all these foods, did you stop to think about how they may impact your cholesterol levels? This post discusses cholesterol and how elevated levels can impact overall health.
What is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance required for cell membrane permeability and fluidity. It is found within all cells and is necessary for your body to make certain steroid hormones and vitamin D as well as substances such as bile acids that help to digest foods. Your body actually makes all the cholesterol you need. Out of your total cholesterol levels, three-fourths is produced naturally and the other fourth comes from your diet. The dietary portion serves as a surplus of cholesterol and is obtained from animal products such as meat, eggs, and dairy.
Cholesterol flows through the bloodstream in small packages known as lipoproteins. It is unable to dissolve in the blood, so these transport proteins carry it to its destination. The lipoproteins carry cholesterol via low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and high-density lipoproteins (HDL). LDL is commonly referred to as the “bad” cholesterol, while HDL is considered the “good” cholesterol.
As LDL circulates throughout the bloodstream, some of it can be deposited into the wall of arteries. While LDL collects in the artery, white blood cells swallow and digest LDL, converting it to a toxic, oxidized form. Macrophages (a type of white blood cell) migrate to this area in the artery causing progressive inflammation. Over time, build up occurs in the artery wall creating plaque that can block the artery and impair proper blood flow, which leads to atherosclerosis. At any time, a sudden rupture of the plaque can occur, causing a blood clot to form on the ruptured area (Figure 1). This can lead to a heart attack if the clot breaks free and travels to the heart. Higher levels of LDL in the blood put patients at greater risk of stroke and heart attack.
HDL, on the other hand, scavenges the bloodstream, removing harmful cholesterol (LDL) from where it doesn’t belong. HDL transports LDL to the liver where it undergoes reprocessing (kind of like recycling). HDL is essential for keeping the inner walls of arteries clean and healthy, which reduces the risk of atherosclerosis. Higher levels of HDL reduce the risk for heart disease while lower levels increase the risk.
Managing Your Cholesterol
Having your cholesterol levels checked regularly is important, especially if you have cardiovascular disease. Cholesterol can be affected by a wide variety of factors such as your age, gender, diet, and genetics. For patients with abnormal cholesterol levels, pharmaceuticals that help normalize cholesterol levels are an option. Lifestyle changes such as smoking cessation, regular exercise, and reduced dietary fat intake can also make a significant difference. Using these suggestions to maintain healthy cholesterol levels is always advised when it comes to living a happy and healthy life. You can help control your cholesterol levels with a little effort put towards a healthy lifestyle.
Guest author: Adam Westman is a member of the Clinical Support & Education Department at NeuroScience, Inc. and the resident expert in cardiology.