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Understanding Cholesterol: Here’s All You Need to Know

05Jul

Understanding Cholesterol: Here’s All You Need to Know

We live in a world where heart health is increasingly becoming important. To stay healthy and active we need to understand the basics of heart health and read our blood reports with some level of understanding. While we regularly discuss our blood cholesterol levels, we do not know what it is exactly or what types of cholesterol are good for us.

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a waxy fat-like substance in the blood that is produced by the liver and is also found in animal products such as meat, dairy products, and eggs. While very high levels of cholesterol can be harmful it is important to remember that cholesterol is also essential because it is needed for a number of important functions such as proper digestion of food, absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, and production of certain hormones. It is not important to ingest cholesterol as a nutrient because the body is capable of producing all the cholesterol it needs.

HDL and LDL

While we generally tend to think of all cholesterol as bad, it is important to understand that there are two types of cholesterol and both are not harmful to our health. The HDL (high-density lipoprotein) is usually referred to as good cholesterol and LDL (low-density lipoprotein) is referred to as bad cholesterol. Lipoproteins are small parcels of fats bound by protein that are carried around the body through blood. The HDL is the lipoprotein that carries cholesterol to the liver to be eliminated from the body. LDL, on the other hand, can lead to plaque build-up in the arteries, clogging them and ultimately leading to a stroke or a heart attack. The higher the HDL levels and the lower the LDL levels in your blood, the healthier you are. Apart from HDL and LDL, there are triglycerides, another form of fatty substance in the blood that increases the risk of developing heart diseases.

How are cholesterol levels calculated?

Cardiologists usually use a blood test called a lipid panel or lipid profile to calculate the total cholesterol, LDL, HDL, and triglycerides levels in the blood. People with high levels of LDL and triglycerides and low HDL or with high risk factors may require this test every few years. Ideally LDL levels should be kept below 130 milligrams per decilitre of blood and HDL levelsabove 40 milligrams per decilitre. These numbers may vary according to age and other factors, though.

How can we control the blood cholesterol levels?

There are a number of factors that affect total cholesterol levels in the blood. Hereditary factors apart from diet, weight, smoking, and physical activity can be some important factors.

Diet – Consuming a lot of processed foods and saturated facts such as deep-fried foods, baked goods, and meats increase the LDL and triglyceride levels and should be avoided.

Weight – Obesity is a major risk factor when it comes to heart diseases. Maintaining ideal weight will keep the LDL and total cholesterol levels in check.

Smoking – Smoking decreases the HDL levels and this in turn contributes to high levels of LDL in the blood. If you smoke it is important to seek help with quitting.

Physical activity – Being physically active helps lower the LDL levels and boost HDL levels in the blood.