What is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that’s found in all the cells in your body. Your body needs some cholesterol to make hormones, vitamin D, and substances that help you digest foods. Your body makes all the cholesterol it needs. Cholesterol is also found in foods from animal sources, such as egg yolks, meat, and cheese.
If you have too much cholesterol in your blood, it can combine with other substances in the blood to form plaque. Plaque sticks to the walls of your arteries. This build-up of plaque is known as atherosclerosis. It can lead to coronary artery disease, where your coronary arteries become narrow or even blocked.
Cholesterol is a type of lipid that performs many essential jobs in your body. Lipids are substances that don’t dissolve in water, so they don’t come apart in your blood. Instead, they travel through your blood to reach different parts of your body that need them.
Your liver makes enough cholesterol to support your body’s needs. But you also get extra cholesterol from the foods you eat. Your body has a system for getting rid of excess cholesterol. But sometimes, that system doesn’t work as well as it should or becomes overloaded. As a result, you can have extra cholesterol circulating in your blood. And that’s when you might run into trouble.
Cholesterol itself isn’t bad. It’s actually vital for you to live. But too much cholesterol can be harmful. That’s why it’s important to learn about cholesterol, including its functions and types. This knowledge can help you understand why you need cholesterol — but not too much of it. It can also help you understand what your cholesterol numbers mean and how to take action to lower them if needed.
What are the different types of cholesterol?
Your body contains several types of cholesterol. You’ll see them listed on your lipid panel results. Learning what each type means can help you talk about your cholesterol with your healthcare provider.
What is LDL cholesterol?
LDL cholesterol refers to low-density lipoproteins. These particles are made mostly of cholesterol, which they deliver to your body’s cells. LDLs have a reputation for being the “bad” cholesterol. Why?
LDLs are important to your body. But they become bad when you have too many of them circulating in your blood. They can combine with other substances and build up on the walls of your arteries. These fatty deposits form plaque that gets bigger over time. This plaque growth is called atherosclerosis, and it raises your risk of a heart attack, stroke and other diseases.
Your LDL cholesterol is a number you want to keep low. For most adults, that means keeping it below 100 mg/dL. If you have a history of atherosclerosis, you should keep your LDL cholesterol below 70 mg/dL.
What is HDL cholesterol?
HDL cholesterol refers to high-density lipoproteins. These lipoproteins are made mostly of protein. HDL is the “good” cholesterol because it takes extra cholesterol out of your bloodstream and transports it to your liver. Your liver then breaks down the cholesterol and gets rid of it. This process is called reverse cholesterol transport.
Your HDL cholesterol is a number you want to keep high. Men and people assigned male at birth (AMAB) should aim for an HDL of at least 40 mg/dL. Women and people assigned female at birth (AFAB) should aim for an HDL of at least 50 mg/dL.
An HDL above 60 is ideal for all adults and may lower your risk of heart disease.
What is VLDL cholesterol?
VLDL cholesterol refers to very low-density lipoproteins. VLDLs carry triglycerides and cholesterol, and their protein content is low. Like LDLs, they’re “bad” because they can contribute to plaque buildup in your arteries.
What factors affect my cholesterol levels?
Many factors can affect your cholesterol levels. These include:
• Age: As you get older, your cholesterol levels rise.
• Diet: Saturated fat and trans fat in the foods you eat raise your LDL levels. This is the “bad” cholesterol you want to keep low. Reducing your intake of saturated and trans fats can help you lower your cholesterol.
• Exercise: Regular exercise can raise your HDL. This is the “good” cholesterol. Aim for 30 minutes of physical activity on most days of the week.
• Heredity: Your genes partly determine how much cholesterol your body makes. High blood cholesterol can run in families.
• Sex assigned at birth: Before menopause, people assigned female at birth usually have lower total cholesterol levels than people assigned male at birth who’re the same age. But after menopause, their LDL levels tend to rise and their HDL can drop.
These events typically don’t occur until high cholesterol leads to the formation of plaque in your arteries. Plaque can narrow arteries so less blood can pass through. The formation of plaque changes the makeup of your arterial lining. This could lead to serious complications. A blood test is the only way to know if your cholesterol is too high. This means having a total blood cholesterol level above 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL). Ask a doctor to give you a cholesterol test after you turn 20. Then get your cholesterol rechecked every 4 to 6 years.
A doctor may also suggest you have your cholesterol checked more frequently if you have a family history of high cholesterol. They might also suggest it if you demonstrate the following risk factors:
- Have high blood pressure
- Are overweight
Genetic conditions that cause high cholesterol
There’s a condition passed through genes that cause high cholesterol called familial hypercholesterolemia. People with this condition have cholesterol levels of 300 mg/dL or higher. They may develop xanthoma, which can appear as a yellow patch above your skin, or a lump underneath your skin.
Coronary artery (heart) disease (CAD)
Coronary artery disease (CAD) is a type of heart disease. It occurs when plaque buildup causes the main arteries that supply your heart with blood to be narrowed or hardened.
Symptoms of heart disease may be different for men and women. However, heart disease remains the number one killer of both sexes in the United States. The most common symptoms include:
1. Angina, chest pain nausea extreme fatigue
2. Shortness of breath
3. Pain in your neck, jaw, upper abdomen, or back Stroke
4. The buildup of plaque caused by high cholesterol can put you at serious risk of having the blood supply to an important part of your brain reduced or cut off. This is what happens when a stroke occurs.
A stroke is a medical emergency. It’s important to act fast and get medical treatment if you or anyone you know experiences the symptoms of a stroke. These symptoms include:
1. Sudden loss of balance and coordination
2. Sudden dizziness
facial asymmetry (drooping eyelid and mouth on just one side)
3. Inability to move, particularly affecting just one side of your body
5. Slurring words
6. Numbness in your face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of your body
7. Blurred vision, blackened vision, or double vision
8. Sudden severe headache
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Heart Care Syrup: One tablespoon twice a day or as directed by your physician.
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