What You Need To Know About Cholesterol
We’ve all heard the word cholesterol and most people associate it with potential problems, such as a heart attack. The truth is that not all cholesterol is bad. We need some cholesterol to survive! We actually produce it naturally in our liver in order to form cell membranes and produce certain hormones.
While cholesterol can be linked to the various kinds of heart disease (such as strokes, heart attacks, and peripheral vascular disease), it is necessary for the production of certain hormones in the body, in particular, the reproductive hormones.
Cholesterol is a fat substance produced by the liver and made into hormones or turned into bile acids, which help us digest the fats in our diet. Cholesterol is so fatty that it doesn’t mix well with blood but must travel in the bloodstream through lipoproteins. There are two kinds of lipoproteins in the body.
The first is LDL lipoprotein, which is considered the “bad” lipoprotein. It is responsible for takin the cholesterol to the arteries of the body and results in atherosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries from fat and calcium deposits).
The second is HDL lipoprotein, which is also called the “good” lipoprotein. It is responsible for removing cholesterol from the peripheral tissues and putting it in the liver for metabolism. The idea is to have a high HDL lipoprotein level and a low LDL lipoprotein level in the body.
However, some people produce too much LDL cholesterol and if they don’t produce enough HDL to counter-balance the bad, then this is when problems can arise and they usually need to make a few changes to their diet and lifestyle.
There are a number of risk factors for heart disease and heart attack. High blood cholesterol is just one known risk factor.
Cholesterol Numbers Measured
When cholesterol is measured in the blood, 4 numbers are involved:
- Total cholesterol
- LDL (Low Density Lipoprotein) cholesterol is the ‘bad’ one. Think L for ‘should be ‘low’. (Or ‘lousy’.)
- HDL (High Density Lipoprotein) cholesterol is the good one. Think H for ‘should be high’. (Or ‘helpful’.)
- Triglycerides are the fatty molecules that circulate energy from animal-based foods and those high in carbohydrates around the body. If the energy is not used up through physical activity, it continues to circulate or is stored in our fat cells.
Effects Of Too Much Cholesterol In The Body
While we need cholesterol to make bile acids, vitamin D and hormones in the body, too much cholesterol can be dangerous. Cholesterol comes from the diet and is manufactured in the liver.
Cholesterol in the diet accounts for about twenty-five percent of the cholesterol in the system. It comes from the production of fats made by animals (in other words, from fatty meats and dairy).
The rest is produced by the body.
If you have high cholesterol levels, it means you have more cholesterol in your bloodstream than your body really needs. You may initially have no symptoms from having high cholesterol and you need to have a blood test called a lipid profile to see what your cholesterol levels are.
If you have been found to have high cholesterol, you can change your diet to lower the cholesterol levels. You can also exercise in order to lower your body cholesterol levels. All of these things can lessen your risk of heart disease.
Effects On The Brain
If you have high cholesterol, you can have cholesterol plaques build up in the arteries that supply the brain. Blood clots can develop in the arteries leading to the brain, resulting in a stroke. Brain cells need a constant supply of oxygen from open blood vessels in order to function properly. Without oxygen, you can develop an ischemic stroke.
Embolic strokes happen when pieces of blood clot and cholesterol plaques break off from other parts of the bloodstream and can block cerebral arteries.
Regardless of the type of stroke you have, you can quickly develop a sudden numbness and weakness in your body due to the death of brain cells. Other symptoms include visual disturbances, balance difficulties, and speech disturbances. If too much of the brain is affected by a stroke, severe disability and death can occur.
Effects Of Cholesterol On The Limbs
Plaques of cholesterol and calcium can build up on the blood vessels leading up to the arms and legs (especially the legs). This can cause peripheral artery disease. When this happens, the blood flow to the arms or legs is blocked and the limbs can become numb and non-functioning.
Gangrene can occur in the limbs and the leg or arm may need to be amputated if the circulation can’t quickly be restored to the affected tissues. The limbs can become infected because the immune system cells can’t reach the infected tissue to fight off the infection.
Cholesterol’s Effect On The Digestive System
Elevated cholesterol levels can cause an imbalance in the bile within the gallbladder, causing the creation of gallstones. About 80 percent of all gallstones in the gallbladder are made from a buildup of cholesterol. Only by lowering the cholesterol in your system can you reduce the incidence of cholesterol-based gallstones.
Cholesterol plaques in the arteries can result in a blockage of the arteries leading to the kidneys or to the stomach. There is a condition known as “intestinal ischemic syndrome” that results from a blockage of the arteries that normally go to the bowels, stomach, or intestine. You can develop symptoms from this condition, such as nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and blood in the stools.
What Does All This Mean?
A large number of LDL molecules in your blood stream can be dangerous because they can stick to the inside of artery walls that have become inflamed or damaged in some way. If LDL starts to stick, it forms arterial plaque, which over time can narrow the arteries, a process called stenosis.
- This is bad for most arteries, but especially the coronary arteries that provide the heart with blood to keep the tissues alive.
If the coronary arteries narrow too much, this can trigger a heart attack. Time is of the essence in restoring circulation to a narrowed artery, or else the heart tissue will die.
Sometimes a piece of the plaque will break off, form a blood clot, and travel to other parts of the body. If it passes through a narrowed artery, it can block it completely. If the clot travels to the heart, it can trigger a heart attack. If it travels to the brain, it can cause a stroke.
The more cholesterol we have circulating in our blood, the greater the risk of our blood vessels becoming clogged. This is because LDL molecules are small and can start to stick to the inside of any artery that is damaged or roughened in some way. Stress is a known cause of damage and roughness.
All the tissues in our body need oxygen to survive. If the arteries narrow, they can’t deliver oxygen rich blood as effectively. Blood pressure gets higher, and the heart has to work even harder than normal. Over time, this leads to hardening of the arteries and possibly even a heart attack or stroke.
Now that you know how LDL cholesterol can harm the arteries and heart and lead to heart attack and stroke, you’re no doubt wondering what you can do to fix the problem and protect yourself from this ever happening.
- You can lower the bad LDL cholesterol levels and boost your good HDL cholesterol levels, which helps clean out the arteries and prevent LDL from sticking. The large HDL molecules act as ‘pipe cleaners’ to stop LDL from sticking to the artery walls, keeping them wide open and all the blood flowing freely.
- Reduce the stress in your life as well so your arteries will not be so inflamed and allow LDL to stick. Follow a heart-healthy lifestyle and see what a difference it can make to your cholesterol levels.
- In addition to diet, exercise, stopping smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, and lowering stress can all help lower your cholesterol and maintain a heart-healthy lifestyle. Have your blood serum cholesterol tested, and if it is high, you can use natural means to lower it. I have!
Lower Cholesterol with A Heart Healthy Lifestyle
One of the easiest ways to live a heart-healthy lifestyle is to get your bad cholesterol (LDL) lower and boost your good cholesterol (HDL) higher. The best ways to do both is to add the healthy fats to your diet.
There are 4 main kinds of fat:
- Trans fats.
Your goal is to add more of the first and cut the other 3 whenever possible. You should also limit your overall intake of fat to around 25% of your overall calorie intake each day. Notice I didn’t say reduce it all? You need the healthy fats in your diet! Dietary fat is not only linked with weight issues, it is linked with cardiovascular health as well, particularly in relation to cholesterol and how it can block arteries and lead to heart attack and stroke.
Cholesterol is formed naturally in the body, but we also consume it in animal-based products we eat, as I said before.
- Butter is one of the most common fats most people consume, but it is full of saturated fat, which has been linked to hardening of the arteries.
- Olive oil may look less healthy in terms of calories if you compare the 2 side by side in a food database, but olive oil is plant-based and has no cholesterol. It is also a heart-healthy fat because it can boost good HDL cholesterol, which can help bad LDL cholesterol from sticking to artery walls.
- A lot of people think margarine is healthier for them instead of butter, but this is often a mistake for a couple of reasons. Some are made with milk, which has saturated fat. Others are made with corn oil, which sounds natural but can cause problems in the arteries as well, but the main reason it is so unhealthy is the process of hydrogenation, which forms trans fatty acids. Think about it…oil in its natural form is liquid. Hydrogen molecules added make it solid and spreadable, but just think how much more that can clog your arteries.
- Many people avoid nuts because they are high in calories per ounce. The truth is that their fats are monounsaturated. They are also full of fiber and filling. In addition, walnuts and almonds have been found to lower LDL and boost HDL.
- Avocados are also high in fat, but have the same heart-healthy benefits when eaten fresh or the oil is used.
So start by using healthier fats and see what a difference it can make to your heart health.
Natural Ways To Lower Cholesterol
Many doctors take one look at a person’s cholesterol levels and immediately try to put them on statins, the most popular class of drugs in the world, which are designed to lower LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol in the body.
This is what happened to me, however I said no to statins and lowered mine naturally. Therefore, if you have high cholesterol and are interested in trying to reduce your cholesterol levels naturally, you can in my opinion (and many others too!)
Your first step is to revise your diet.
- Cut back on saturated fats and dietary cholesterol.
As I said above there are healthy fats (and foods) you can add to your diet, to help lower the bad and raise the good. Aim for the healthy fats, instead of the saturated fats. Use olive oil instead of butter and eat avocados and almonds…yum!
- Steer clear of trans fats.
Trans fatty acids are created by the food industry to make liquid oils more solid and spreadable and less likely to go rancid when sitting on supermarket shelves. Hydrogen molecules are pumped into the oil. Try heart healthy olive oil, canola oil and nut-based oils instead.
- Eat more fiber.
Fruits and vegetables are full of fiber, which help you feel full and can cut down on overeating. Eating a rainbow every day, that is, at least 7 servings of different colored foods, is an easy way to help balance your diet.
Oatmeal is another valuable source of fiber that has been shown to reduce cholesterol naturally. As few as 8 walnuts a day can also help. So too can a handful of almonds. While it is true that nuts are high in fat, they are full of heart-healthy fats and fiber, making them very filling.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
Even losing 10 pounds can make a difference to your cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar readings. So if you are caring a few too many pounds…think about losing weight naturally for your health too!
The current recommendation is 250 minutes of moderate activity per week to raise the heart rate (aerobic activity) and two 30-minute sessions of strength training. This can lead to long, lean muscles, which will boost your metabolism even when you are at rest, making it easier to lose weight and keep it off.
If you need an added boost, there are also natural cholesterol supplements to help lower the bad cholesterol and raise the good cholesterol levels, such as CholesLo.
These are just a few simple changes you can make starting today to lower your cholesterol naturally and see what a difference it can make to your heart health.
So do you think I have explained cholesterol simply? Even lowering it naturally, really is quite simple when you break it down in small steps.
Disclaimer – I am an affiliate for this product mentioned.