High cholesterol is a disease that plagues worldwide (WHO, 2015). Every now and then, a new patient is diagnosed with high cholesterol, and asked to make major changes in life if he wants to live longer.
Cholesterol: The Basics
Cholesterol is present in every cell of the body, and is categorized as a white-coloured, soft, waxy substance. On average, cholesterol is responsible for the production and metabolism of vitamins, bile acids, cell membranes and hormones. More than 75% of body cholesterol is produced on a regular basis by the liver, while the rest is consumed by human body as food. A human being produces about 1mg of cholesterol on a daily basis.
Role of Lipoproteins
Cholesterol is insoluble in water due to its fatty nature. For this reason, it can only be transported along the bloodstream with the help of lipoproteins. There are four types of lipoproteins: HDL (High Density), IDL (Intermediate Density), LDL (Low Density) and VLDL (Very Low Density). If there are higher levels of HDL, it is good for the body. However, elevated levels of any other lipoproteins can be harmful for the body (Carmena, et al., 2004).
High cholesterol, scientifically called dyslipidaemia and hypercholesterolemia, occurs when levels of cholesterol increase significantly within the bloodstream. Low levels of HDL lipoprotein and high levels of non-HDL proteins in the bloodstream can increase levels of cholesterol within the bloodstream. This situation maybe a consequence of genetically inherited diseases, obesity or poor diet.
Role of Diet in Elevated Cholesterol Levels
Blood cholesterol is affected greatly by the type of diet a person consumes on an average. 50% of the cholesterol that is consumed by mouth is digested by the intestines. However, the levels of absorption and metabolism vary between individuals. If the level of cholesterol intake falls below average, the production of body cholesterol increases. It is recommended that people with high cholesterol should consume less than 200mg of saturated fatty acids per day (Ito, et al., 2011).
Dangers of High Cholesterol
While cholesterol itself is not harming, continuous levels of serum cholesterol can be deadly. Elevated cholesterol can cause the formation of plaques within the arteries. This leads to narrowing, or blockage of arteries, and eventually atherosclerosis. If any artery is completely blocked, it can lead to heart attack. If there is a blockage in the artery that supplies blood to the brain, it can lead to stroke. Gradual narrowing of arteries supplying blood to organs and tissues can lead to organ impairment.
It is recommended worldwide that people more than 20 years of age should be tested for cholesterol on a routine basis, and also be monitored if they have any risk factors that might contribute to higher cholesterol levels. People with normal cholesterol levels should be tested once every five years.
Treating High Cholesterol with Lifestyle Changes
People with high cholesterol levels are first required to make lifestyle changes that might make it easier for them to manage. It is recommended that patients with high cholesterol maintain a healthy diet, increase their physical activity, limit their alcohol and cigarette consumption and keep their weight in check. Avoiding trans-fats, saturated fats and focusing on low-cholesterol diet can help reduce cholesterol levels up to 15%.
Treating High Cholesterol with Medication
If primary lifestyle changes are ineffective, doctors treat high cholesterol normally with statins. Statins can help reduce cholesterol levels down to half in most of the people. People with high risk of cardiovascular disease benefit greatly from statins. If cardiovascular disease is in early stage, or if a patient has high risk of cardiovascular disease but hasn’t developed it yet, statins can help reduce their risk by tenfold.
Carmena, R., Duriez, P. & Fruchart, J. C., 2004. Atherogenic lipoprotein particles in atherosclerosis. Circulation, 109(23 Suppl 1), pp. III2-7.
Ito, M. K., McGowan, M. P. & Moriarty, P. M., 2011. Management of familial hypercholesterolemias in adult patients: recommendations from the National Lipid Association Expert Panel on Familial Hypercholesterolemia. J Clin Lipodol, 5(3 Suppl), pp. S38-45.
WHO, 2015. Global Health Observatory (GHO) data: Raised cholesterol situation and trends. [Online]
Available at: http://www.who.int/gho/ncd/risk_factors/cholesterol_text/en/
[Accessed 7 January 2016].
Dr.Felix. 2016. High Cholesterol. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.drfelix.co.uk/. [Accessed 06 January 2016].