Cholesterol

High cholesterol is a chronic condition that is extending its claws in India gradually. Recent studies have reported that 25–30% of urban and 15–20% of rural India are affected by high cholesterol.* Cholesterol is a fat-like substance found in all body cells. However, an excess or a disbalance of cholesterol values is a major contributor to compromised heart health, heart disease, and stroke. 

Want to cut your risk of heart disease? Then, it is mandatory to get tested and keep a track of your cholesterol levels.

Cholesterol travels within the body with the help of protein molecules, the combined molecule called lipoprotein (lipo: lipid or fats, in addition to protein). Majorly, cholesterol can be of two types, based on the type of protein that transports it through the bloodstream: 

  1. Low-density lipoproteins/ LDL cholesterol: Carries cholesterol from the liver into the blood, where it can stick to the blood vessels. As this kind of cholesterol is likely to build up, people often refer to it as “bad” cholesterol.
  2. High-density lipoproteins/HDL cholesterol: Carries the cholesterol in the blood back to the liver, where it is broken down. For this reason, HDL cholesterol is called “good” cholesterol.

A health goal worth achieving for every individual is to elevate levels of good cholesterol and control the rise in bad cholesterol. Book a lipid profile test and know the values. 

Role of diet in cholesterol

The diet, especially fats, we eat has a significant role in blood cholesterol values. Hence, it is of utmost importance to pay attention not only to what types of food we are consuming but also their quantities entering the body. Let’s learn the most important dietary dos and don’ts to follow if your cholesterol levels are high:

Dos

Watch the type of fat you consume: The dietary fats can primarily be of three types. Different types of fat impact your cholesterol levels differently:

  • Saturated fats: They instruct the liver to produce more bad cholesterol, hence their intake should be limited.
  • Unsaturated fats: Certain unsaturated fats can facilitate the reabsorption of bad cholesterol through your liver. Hence, it is a healthy type of fat that can help reduce bad cholesterol.
  • Trans fats: These fats are produced by an artificial process called hydrogenation, and they might also harm your good cholesterol levels.

Fried and packaged foods often contain trans fats. In addition, refined oil, ghee, etc contain saturated fats. Add more sources of unsaturated fats to your diet. Foods like nuts, dry fruits, and seeds are rich in unsaturated fats. Choose healthful fats to lower bad cholesterol levels while maintaining good cholesterol levels.

Please note that a completely fat-free diet can also be harmful because it would impair normal nerve and brain function, and can cause inflammation.

Fibers for a healthy heart: Fiber can be of two main forms: soluble and insoluble. Many foods contain both forms. At large, the more natural and unprocessed the food, the higher is its fiber content. While insoluble fiber is pivotal for gut health, soluble fiber binds to cholesterol in the blood and helps remove it through feces. Fiber-rich foods have the added benefit of controlling blood sugar levels as well. Include more peas, broccoli, spinach, carrot, pear, oranges, strawberries in your diet. Eat plenty of vegetables. Note that there is no fiber in meat, milk products, or sugar.

Use healthy oils for cooking: Mustard oil is a healthier option as it remains stable at high temperatures usually used in Indian cooking. Olive oil is rich in healthy fats too. But limit its usage in salad and dressings, and avoid using it for cooking Indian recipes. Refined oils usually contain more saturated fats.

Consume healthy protein sources: Limit unprocessed red meat. Select lean meat (trimmed of fat, and poultry without skin). Including protein-rich foods like fish, eggs, legumes (such as beans and lentils) in your diet keep you full and helps you avoid munching on unhealthy fatty snacks.

Dont’s

Restrict takeaway foods to once a week: Fast food and readymade processed items such as pastries, bread pakodas, burgers, pizza, chips, etc are usually made of unhealthy cheese and rancid oil. Eating them too frequently can hurt your cholesterol levels drastically. Consult with your doctor about how often you can consume outside food.

Limit salt in daily food and snack: Limiting salt won’t decrease your cholesterol levels directly, but it can help maintain blood pressure levels and decrease your risk of heart diseases. Both high cholesterol and high salt intake can increase blood pressure, and predispose to heart attacks and strokes. Even if you have not been diagnosed with high blood pressure, you should eat less salt.

Along with a healthy diet, make sure to get your cholesterol tested regularly. It is important to track so that you know the measures are taking are working well for you. 

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Have come across the term “high cholesterol” in several health-related discussions and could never decode what it exactly is? Here we explain what is cholesterol, the difference between good and bad cholesterol, and the basics of cholesterol tests.

What is Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a type of fat found in your blood. Every organ in your body including the brain, skin, and other organs needs cholesterol to do their jobs. However, you need a little and not a lot of it!.


In the body, cholesterol is produced from your liver. Apart from this naturally synthesized cholesterol, you also can get it from the foods you eat. Meat, fish, eggs, butter, cheese, and milk all have cholesterol in them. Fruits and green vegetables do not have any cholesterol. Too much of anything can be detrimental. Similarly, eating too much fat and cholesterol can impact your body and health negatively.

What are the types of cholesterol?

Cholesterol in your blood needs to travel through the body, but it can’t do this on its own. So, it combines with proteins to travel through the bloodstream. This cholesterol and protein that travel together are called lipoproteins.

Chiefly, there are two types of cholesterol:

Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol or bad cholesterol: Carries cholesterol from the liver into the blood, where it can stick to the blood vessels.


High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol or good cholesterol: Carries the cholesterol in the blood back to the liver, where it is broken down.


Find it difficult to remember which one is good and what is bad? Here’s a hack: the HDL is the good cholesterol, so remember it as “healthy” cholesterol — “H” for healthy. The other one is bad cholesterol.

What happens if you have too much bad cholesterol?

If your body has too much LDL (bad) cholesterol, this can stick and build upon the walls of your blood vessels. This buildup is called “plaque.” As this plaque continues to thicken over time, the inside lumen of the blood vessels get narrowed. These narrower blood vessels pose an obstruction to the blood flow to and from your heart and other organs. And, when blood flow to the heart is obstructed, it can cause chest pain or even a heart attack. So, bad cholesterol and heart disease are directly related.


Your body naturally produces all the (bad) cholesterol it needs. However, an unhealthy lifestyle can make your body produce more LDL cholesterol than it needs and causes LDL cholesterol levels to rise in the blood:

Factors that lead to an increase in bad cholesterol levels include:

  • Eating unhealthy
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Smoking or exposure to tobacco smoke
  • Being overweight or obese


When people say high cholesterol, they usually mean high levels of bad cholesterol and/or low levels of good cholesterol.

Heredity can play a role too

You may inherit genes from the family members such as your mother, father, or even grandparents that cause you to have too much cholesterol. This is called familial hypercholesterolemia (FH). FH is dangerous because it can lead a person to develop premature atherosclerotic heart disease.

How to know if you have high cholesterol?

A complete cholesterol test — also called a lipid panel or lipid profile — is a simple blood test that can measure the amount of cholesterol (and triglycerides) in your blood. This is an important tool for identifying people at significant risk of developing heart disease, especially coronary artery disease. This test can help determine your risk of the buildup of plaques in your arteries that can cause narrowed or blocked arteries, a condition called atherosclerosis.

Who should get a cholesterol test?

You might be at the risk of having high cholesterol levels and need to take a cholesterol test if you:   

  • Have a family history of high cholesterol or heart attacks
  • Are overweight
  • Have an inactive lifestyle
  • Eat an unhealthy diet
  • Indulge in cigarette smoking
  • Are a man older than 45 or a woman older than 55
  • Have diabetes

As per the clinical guidelines, people with a history of strokes or heart attacks need regular cholesterol testing to track the effectiveness of their medicines

When to get tested?

  • If you are an adult having no risk factors for heart disease, take it as a regular health checkup once every four to six years; children, teens, and young adults should be tested once between the ages of 9 and 11 and then again between the ages of 17 and 21.
  • When risk factors for heart disease are present, when prior results showed high-risk levels, and/or when undergoing any type of treatment for high cholesterol levels, testing should be done more frequently and at regular intervals of time.
  • If you are an adult at average risk of developing coronary artery disease, you should have your cholesterol checked every five years, beginning at age 18.


How to prevent high cholesterol levels?

Making lifestyle changes is the first and foremost step to lower your cholesterol level and reduce the risk of developing heart disease. Make exercise an essential part of your daily routine. Avoid processed and deep-fried food items. If you think you might have high cholesterol, get tested, and consult your doctor to seek treatment on time.


Making even modest changes now can help you to prevent high cholesterol levels that can save you from significant medical issues later such as heart attack and stroke.

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