Cholesterol is essential for building healthy cells in our body, but high amounts can be harmful to our health. Cholesterol comes in two primary forms; the low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and the high-density lipoprotein (HDL). The former is the unhealthy cholesterol that builds up in the arteries to form fatty deposits (plaques). High cholesterol leads to the growth of fatty deposits in your arteries, and as these levels increase, it reduces the amount of blood that flows through your blood vessels. This can lead to several health complications, such as:
Excess LDL cholesterol levels clog the arteries making them less flexible and more stiff. This hardening of the arteries due to high LDL is called atherosclerosis, and it reduces the amount of blood flowing through your arteries. Blood is responsible for oxygen supply in your body, and a low supply of it could cause difficulties in breathing.
High blood pressure
High levels of cholesterol also cause high blood pressure (hypertension). When arteries clog and are hardened by the plaque deposits, the heart strains to pump blood through them. Due to this, your blood pressure increases. Hypertension can lead to many other serious health problems.
Coronary heart disease
High cholesterol levels build up on the walls of your arteries. The build-up (plaque) leads to atherosclerosis which, as mentioned earlier, narrows the arteries and reduces the blood flow to the heart muscles. If the blood vessels become completely blocked, it may result in chest pains (angina).
Cholesterol is important for proper brain function. In fact, 25% of your whole body’s cholesterol is contained in the brain. It is used to develop and protect nerve cells, facilitating the communication of the brain with other body parts. While cholesterol is essential for the brain’s optimal function, high levels of it can be harmful. Excess levels of plaque deposits disrupt blood flow in your arteries, which can cause a stroke. Furthermore, high cholesterol levels increase the rate of formation of beta-amyloidal plaques – the sticky deposits that damage the brain. Stroke leads to difficulty with speech, movement, and loss of memory, amongst other brain functions.
Common treatment options
The good news is high cholesterol levels can be lowered with lifestyle changes, as well as medication as explained below:
Check your diet
A good and healthy diet rich in vegetables, fruits, and even grains will help lower the cholesterol levels in your bloodstream. These foods contain compounds like sterols and stanols that act as fibers. And a diet high in fiber can help lower cholesterol levels by up to 10%. Your diet should also include fish since it is rich in omega-3 fatty acids. These acids will increase your HDL levels (the good cholesterol). Avoid consuming large amounts of sugars and foods with saturated fats, as this will increase your cholesterol levels.
In addition to maintaining a healthy diet, you should exercise regularly. A daily aerobic exercise or a bike ride will boost your HDL cholesterol levels, which assists in getting rid of excess LDL from your bloodstream. You should try to do a moderate-intensity workout for 30 minutes at least five days a week, as recommended by the NHS. Losing about 10% of your weight significantly reduces the chances of you suffering from conditions associated with high levels of cholesterol.
Drug therapy is an efficient way to reduce cholesterol levels in your body. There are different types of medication that you can use; statins are the best class of drugs as they reduce the amount of LDL cholesterol produced by the liver. An average dose of statin raises HDL by 5-10% and reduces LDL by 20-35%. In addition to lowering cholesterol levels, statins have other health benefits to your body. While statins are the first option to help lower cholesterol levels, your doctor can prescribe different drugs if you are not reactive to them or in case of side effects. These other drugs include:
- Ezetimibe: Blocks absorption of cholesterol in your intestines
- Niacin: Raises HDL and lowers LDL
- Fibrates: Lowers triglycerides in the body and raises HDL