Cholesterol is a fatty substance found in your bloodstream. It is a popular misconception that the presence of cholesterol in the body is bad. But that is not true.
Cholesterol is needed in the body for the following reasons:
- It helps in creating new tissue
- It aids in the production of steroid hormones
- It helps in bile secretion
- It aids in the production of estrogen
Our body has two types of cholesterol:
- High-Density Lipoprotein Cholesterol is the type of cholesterol that is good for our bodies. It helps in sending the bad cholesterol back to the liver, where it is broken down.
- Low-Density Lipoprotein Cholesterol is the bad cholesterol in our system. This is the fatty substance that blocks and chokes the arteries.
Cholesterol and Cardiovascular Health
High cholesterol levels in your bloodstream can adversely affect your cardiovascular health.
Excess cholesterol is harmful to your circulatory system as it can get deposited in the arteries creating a partial blockage which if left untreated, can become life-threatening.
Fatty deposits called plaques develop in the arteries due to excessive cholesterol, which over time stiffen the arteries. Plaque deposits reduce the elasticity of these blood vessels.
Narrowed arteries and their reduced elasticity means that it becomes more difficult for them to pump blood. This condition is known as atherosclerosis.
Reduced blood flow means that the chances of heart attack are greater. High levels of cholesterol may block the flow of oxygenated blood toward the heart. When this happens, the heart isn’t able to function properly. This happens when there is something such as plaque, calcium deposits or even deposition of inflammatory cells which clog the pathway of oxygen-rich blood moving toward the heart causing the cardiac muscle to not function properly.
Though it is said cholesterol levels shoot up in individuals only due to the food and lifestyle related habits that they have, this is not always true. Some may suffer from a condition called familial hypercholesterolemia. This is a condition where having high levels of cholesterol in the bloodstream is inherited. This implies that someone with this condition is likely to have high cholesterol levels despite having a heart-healthy lifestyle.
A few myths about cholesterol
Cholesterol is bad for the body.
Cholesterol is an essential lipoprotein in the body which is needed in building cells. Low density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL) is often called ‘bad cholesterol.’ This is because an excess of LDL in the body causes issues. It accumulates in the arteries, partially blocking them.
High cholesterol levels can be controlled with only a restricted diet and exercise.
Opting for food that is healthy and involving yourself in physical activities is good for the heart. But when cholesterol levels are quite high then medicines are needed to keep these levels under control. A group of medicines called statins are often prescribed by doctors to control high cholesterol levels.
You have no control over your cholesterol levels.
Though you cannot directly control the levels of cholesterol in your body there are certain checks and measures you can adopt to prevent any major health issues related to higher cholesterol levels in the bloodstream.
In order to keep your cholesterol levels within the normal range you must make healthy food choices. This would include having lots of fresh fruits and vegetables everyday. You must also avoid junk food and processed food consumption on a daily basis as these are high in saturated fats which push up cholesterol levels.
You must involve yourself in some form of physical activity everyday. This does not necessarily mean that you need to spend hours in the gym. Physical activities include jogging or running for at least 45 minutes everyday, swimming or even playing any sport for a minimum of 45 minutes to an hour on a regular basis.
You must get your cholesterol levels checked annually unless specifically advised otherwise by your doctor. These cholesterol screenings done in the form of blood tests can help in identifying increasing cholesterol levels in the initial stages before the issue gets more serious.
You can sense if your body has higher cholesterol levels.
Unlike issues like increased blood pressure levels where symptoms such as the head throbbing and swinging at times and high irritability which can be sensed easily, higher cholesterol levels have no such visible symptoms in the initial stages.When cholesterol levels become very high there is greater risk of a heart stroke. In some individuals it has been seen that when the cholesterol levels go up abnormally there are yellowish tinted fat deposits of cholesterol in their skin. But this is not a common symptom for all individuals.
If my blood cholesterol level is under control, my heart is healthy.
Yes, it is true that high cholesterol levels increase the risk of cardiac ailments. But this is not the only risk factor when it comes to cardiac health.
Apart from cholesterol, there are many other factors that increase the risk of having cardiac ailments.
Stress triggers hypertension which increases the risk of stroke. Although one cannot completely avoid stress, it is very important to keep stress levels under control . You can achieve this by practicing meditation and involving yourself in activities which help to calm you down. This may include gardening, cooking, painting or even going to the park or terrace for a stroll.
Lack of physical activity
Physical inactivity can be dangerous for the human heart. Bodily movement is important to maintain agility, brain, lung and heart health.
Unhealthy weight often caused by binge eating and eating too late is not good for the heart.
Consumption of tobacco deteriorates lung and cardiac health and it is best to keep away from smoking. According to research published by the Harvard Medical School , chain smokers are at a greater risk of heart related ailments.
Alcohol and drug consumption
Drinking alcohol regularly can be suicidal for those with existent cardiac ailments as alcohol can interfere with ongoing medication.
Recreational drugs such as heroin, cocaine and marihuana consumption are also responsible for heart ailments so they are best avoided.