Cholesterol is a waxy, fatty substance found in the blood. It is vital for the normal functioning of the bodybuilding healthy cells, producing hormones, protecting nerves, making vitamin D, and aiding digestion. However, high levels of cholesterol can damage your arteries and lead to major health problems.
Cholesterol is carried in the blood by proteins. When the two combine, they are called a lipoprotein. There are different types of cholesterol based on the lipoprotein they carry. These are known as:
- Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) – LDL, or “bad”, cholesterol transports cholesterol from ingested fats and cells that synthesize it in the body to muscles and blood vessels where it is deposited. This cholesterol builds up within the walls of the arteries, causing atherosclerotic plaques.
- High-density lipoprotein (HDL) – HDL, or “good”, cholesterol promotes the excretion of excess cholesterol from the body.
High blood cholesterol has no symptoms. A simple blood test is the only way to detect your cholesterol levels.
Causes Of High Cholesterol
Many different factors can increase your risk of high blood cholesterol, including:
- An unhealthy diet – eating a diet high in saturated fat can raise your cholesterol levels. Foods that are high on cholesterol (especially trans-fats), such as red meat and full-fat dairy products, may contribute to high levels of cholesterol.
- Obesity – if you have a body mass index of 30 or greater, it’s likely that you will have high levels of triglycerides and LDL cholesterol.
- Lack of exercise or physical activity – not getting enough physical activity can increase your bad cholesterol or LDL levels.
- Smoking – cigarettes contain acrolein, a chemical compound that stops HDL from transporting cholesterol from fatty deposits to the liver. This causes fatty deposits to accumulate on your blood vessels’ walls, leading to narrowing of the arteries. A 2013 study also found that quitting smoking was associated with an increase in HDL cholesterol levels.
- Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol – regularly consuming large amounts of alcohol can raise cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
- Age – since the body’s chemistry changes as we age, the risk for high cholesterol levels goes up. For example, as you grow older, your liver becomes less able to clear LDL cholesterol.
- Underlying conditions – diabetes and high blood pressure (hypertension) contribute to high levels of dangerous cholesterol. Other health conditions that can raise cholesterol levels include liver disease, kidney disease, and an underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism).
- A family history of a cholesterol-related condition – family members share genes, and therefore if you have a family history of high cholesterol, you are more likely to have the condition too. For instance, people with familial hypercholesterolemia, a gene alteration inherited from a parent, have raised cholesterol from birth.
Too much cholesterol can cause plaque to build up in the arteries, making it hard for blood to get to the heart. Reduced blood flow through the arteries can cause dangerous complications such as:
- Heart attack – accumulation of plaque thickens and hardens the artery wall, and it causes it to bulge into the bloodstream, reducing or blocking blood flow. When plaque ruptures, a blood clot can form at the site and block the flow of blood. If blood flow to the heart stops, it triggers a heart attack.
- Stroke – similar to a heart attack, a stroke occurs when part of the brain does not get enough blood and oxygen, causing the cells in the affected region to die.
- Chest pain – when the heart does not get enough oxygen-rich blood, you might develop chest pain known as angina.
- Effects on memory – High cholesterol levels can contribute to stroke and heart disease, which are both risk factors for memory issues. Furthermore, high levels of cholesterol on its own has been linked to dementia and mental impairment.
- Gallstones – excess cholesterol in the blood can build up into hard, painful stones in the gallbladder.
Preventing and Managing High Levels of Cholesterol
Although there is a wide range of medication available to combat high cholesterol, the same healthy lifestyle changes that can lower cholesterol levels can help keep your cholesterol in a healthy range instead. Here’s what you can do to prevent high blood cholesterol.
- Make healthy eating choices
- Get regular physical activity
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Quit smoking
- Drink alcohol in moderation, if at all