Recently, a friend of mine called me panicking and wondering if she was dying or if she had any sinister complications looming ahead simply because she had her cholesterol levels checked at a work wellness screening and it was said to be very high. The truth is that she’s not alone.
Lately, I’ve come across an increasingly alarming number of young, seemingly normal weight men and women who have got high levels of cholesterol in their blood streams; and the number continues to rise.
SEE ALSO: Why Obesity Is No Laughing Matter
Keep Up With Face2Face Africa On Facebook!
What makes it all worse is that so many of the affected people are ignorant about their condition, and even when they are told, they express surprise because the common generalization is that it’s “fat” people that have high cholesterol levels.
Sorry to burst your bubble, guys, but high cholesterol is indeed a condition that affects almost every category of humans. Not to worry, though, Face2Face Africa is here to shed some light on this issue and encourage all of us to take our cholesterol levels a bit more seriously.
Cholesterol & Hypercholesterolemia
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that is produced in the body. It is gotten from foods that come from animals and is especially abundant in egg yolks, red meat, some poultry, some fish, and dairy products.
The body needs cholesterol to build healthy cells, make hormones, and even produce substances that aid in the digestion of fatty foods.
Having too much cholesterol, though, increases a person’s risk of developing heart disease.
There are two main types of cholesterol: low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, which is the “bad” cholesterol, and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, which is the “good” cholesterol.
It is the LDL type that usually causes health problems.
Because LDL cholesterol adds to the total cholesterol in the blood stream, it is advisable to keep total cholesterol levels within a certain figure limit, which is less than 200mg/dl as values higher than that are indications of hypercholesterolemia or an impending case.
When you have high cholesterol, a.k.a. hypercholesterolemia, you will gradually start to deposit fat in your blood vessels. Eventually, these deposits will start to block the blood vessels, thereby making it difficult for enough blood to flow through.
When this happens, blood won’t flow properly to vital body organs, e.g. the brain and heart. When the heart doesn’t get as much oxygen-rich blood as it needs, the chance of getting a heart attack is higher. Reduced blood flow to the brain can result in a stroke.
How does one get hypercholesterolemia?
Your body produces all the cholesterol you need therefore you require only a small quantity of fat in your diet to make some extra cholesterol enough to stay healthy. Even though high cholesterol (hypercholesterolemia) can be inherited, it’s often the result of unhealthy diet and lifestyle choices. The good news is that it’s preventable and treatable.
Hypercholesterolemia in itself has no symptoms; only a blood test can detect it.
Therefore, if you don’t check routinely, you may not even know you are walking around with high levels of cholesterol.
Usually, symptoms don’t appear until the hypercholesterolemia has started causing complications, and even then, the symptoms are those of the resultant effects.
For example, there can be a heart-related chest pain or other symptoms of coronary artery disease as well as symptoms of decreased blood supply to the brain that can cause “mini strokes” (transient ischaemic attacks) and even full blown strokes.
Am I At Risk of Developing Hypercholesterolemia?
If you fall in to any of the following categories, then yes, you are at risk:
- You Are Obese. Having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or greater puts you at risk of high cholesterol.
- You Eat a Poor Diet. Foods that are high in cholesterol and saturated fats will increase your total cholesterol.
- You Have Poor Exercise Habits. Exercising helps to boost your body’s HDL “good” cholesterol while burning off your LDL “bad” cholesterol. Not getting enough exercise puts you at risk of high cholesterol.
- You Smoke. Cigarette smoking damages the walls of your blood vessels, making them likely to accumulate fatty deposits.
- You Have Diabetes. Having a high blood sugar concentration damages the lining of your blood vessels, which contributes to higher LDL cholesterol and lower HDL cholesterol.
Preventing and Managing Hypercholesterolemia
The basis of preventing hypercholesterolemia is the same as with treatment: embarking on heart-healthy lifestyle and diet changes. While there are medications for lowering cholesterol, adhering to these diet and lifestyle modifications always help significantly, and even if you are already on drugs, these guidelines also help your drugs work better. Key changes that go a very long way in reducing cholesterol levels are:
1. Losing weight: Studies have shown that losing as little as 5 to 10 percent can help to significantly reduce cholesterol levels. Assess yourself and take note of the things that challenge your weight loss journey and find ways to overcome them, e.g. if you notice that you buy lots of fast food for lunch, try preparing and packing a healthful lunch instead. In addition, incorporate more activity in your daily routine, e.g. taking the steps instead of the elevator.
2. Modify your diet to contain more heart-healthy foods: For a large percentage of people with high cholesterol level, their diets are the main causative culprits. Instead of eating fatty foods, stock up on fruits and vegetables, consume whole grains, eat fish, incorporate nuts in to your meals, and cook with healthier oils. These steps may seem small, but they go a long way.
3. Exercise! Exercise! Whether you’re overweight or not, exercise helps to reduce blood cholesterol levels. Even moderate, simple physical activities can help raise your good cholesterol while burning off the bad, e.g. taking brisk walks, swimming. You also get the extra benefit of losing weight.
4. Stop smoking: Okay, guys, if you smoke, you need to stop. Quitting cigarette smoking helps your blood vessels to heal from the damage you’ve erstwhile caused it and it also improves your good cholesterol level. As a matter of fact, studies have shown that just 20 minutes after you quit, your blood pressure decreases; within 24 hours, your risk of a heart attack decreases; within one year, your risk of heart disease is half that of a smoker; and within 15 years, your risk of heart disease is similar to someone who never smoked! Wouldn’t you rather have a clean slate again?
5. Flee from alcohol: Just like with smoking, alcohol consumption has been linked to many illnesses, including high blood pressure, heart failure, and stroke. If you must consume alcohol, do so in very moderate quantities so that you do not increase your risk factors for developing hypercholesterolemia.
6. Regular checks: Having regular blood checks for cholesterol among other things can never be overemphasized. This is very important, because if you discover anything, you can tackle it ASAP.
Sometimes though, lifestyle changes aren’t enough…
If you’ve been adhering to lifestyle and diet changes but your blood cholesterol levels are still not maintained within normal levels, then you may need medical intervention by way of drugs that lower cholesterol. This should only be prescribed by your doctor.
Note: Even if you are on medications, you must still support them with your lifestyle and diet management.
This is 2015, guys, own your health and stay healthy!