It is time to set right all the negative publicity involving cholesterol and give you the facts

Cholesterol has got a bad rep overall. But if we were to play devil’s advocate for just one minute, we uncover a bunch of truths - and one unproven theory.

Myupchar August 22, 2019 14:05:58 IST
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It is time to set right all the negative publicity involving cholesterol and give you the facts
  • Truth No. 1 is that our bodies need cholesterol to maintain a number of functions

  • Second, it is one of the primary components of cell membranes - the outer layer of every cell in our bodies

  • People believe eating fatty foods can lead to high cholesterol, but there’s no scientific evidence linking food cholesterol and body cholesterol

Cholesterol has got a bad rep overall. But if we were to play devil’s advocate for just one minute, we uncover a bunch of truths - and one unproven theory.

Truth No. 1 is that our bodies need cholesterol to maintain a number of functions. The body actually makes cholesterol to keep you healthy. Second, it is one of the primary components of cell membranes - the outer layer of every cell in our bodies. Third, scientists have yet to find a direct link between food cholesterol and body cholesterol. (Meaning that while there is a general feeling that eating fatty foods can lead to high cholesterol, there’s no evidence to support it yet.)

It is time to set right all the negative publicity involving cholesterol and give you the facts

Representative image. AFP

So, what is it: Cholesterol is an organic waxy substance. There are two types of cholesterol in the body: high-density lipoproteins or HDL cholesterol and low-density lipoproteins or LDL cholesterol. While HDL helps in the healthy functioning of your heart, brain and general health, excess of LDL or “bad” cholesterol may lead to severe cardiovascular conditions including heart attack and stroke.

But if it is really that evil why does our body makes it in the first place? And is there any way to reduce LDL levels?

The bad one

LDL is made up of complex hydrophobic (water-hating) fat molecules wrapped in hydrophilic (water-loving) proteins that help it travel through the bloodstream. It is responsible for transferring cholesterol to where it’s needed to repair the body.

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, LDL levels should be below 100 mg/dL in healthy individuals regardless of age and gender.

LDL levels (in mg/dL)

Category

<100

Optimal

100-129

Near or above optimal

130-159

Borderline high

160-189

High

>190

Very high

Higher than normal LDL levels may lead to fat deposits in blood vessels. This fat is known as “plaque”. Over time plaque deposits make the blood vessels narrower. Known as atherosclerosis, this condition can further lead to a number of diseases, from high blood pressure to thrombosis (blood clots), stroke and even a heart attack.

Excess LDL is also associated with various chronic diseases including diabetes.

Factor this in

LDL cholesterol levels are affected by all those factors that determine the total lipid levels in your body. These include:

  • Diet: Poor diet comprising saturated and trans fats is one of the main culprits for hypercholesterolemia (high cholesterol levels). Fried and processed foods are some of the richest sources of both these types of fats. Rule of thumb: if a packet says hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated, avoid it.
  • Genetics: If you have a family history of high cholesterol, chances are you will get it, too. Be extra cautious, to follow a healthier lifestyle and go for annual blood tests - early diagnosis can help to maintain cholesterol levels.
  • Physical activity: Lack of exercise has a cascading effect on cholesterol build-up and overall health.
  • Weight watchers: Though some thin people can also have high cholesterol, it is likely that most overweight or obese people will be at risk for high LDL cholesterol and triglycerides.
  • Ageing: Women after menopause are more prone to high LDL levels.
  • Side-effects: Certain steroids, medicines for HIV and blood pressure also tend to increase LDL levels.
  • Other conditions: Patients with chronic kidney disease and diabetes are at high risk of developing high LDL levels.

Your fight to win

The Familial Hypercholesterolemia Foundation, U.S., enlists easy ways to help lower your cholesterol levels:

Eat healthy: It is one of the best ways to control cholesterol levels. Experts suggest adding more vegetables, fresh fruits, whole grains and fish to your diet while limiting red meats, eggs and dairy products.

Fibre, please: Vegetarian food is rich in fibre and phytochemicals (plant-based chemicals). A plant-based diet aids in reducing your LDL and total cholesterol levels, and also helps break down plaque in your blood vessels.

Work(out) for it: Nothing beats regular exercise when it comes to maintaining and building health. Thirty minutes of daily workout is more than enough to help you lose excess fat and stay fit.

Health articles in Firstpost are written by myUpchar.com, India’s first and biggest resource for verified medical information. At myUpchar, researchers and journalists work with doctors to bring you information on all things health. To know more on this topic, please visit https://www.myupchar.com/en/disease/high-cholesterol

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