|Other Terms :||Hypercholesterolemia (HI-per-ko-LES-ter-ol-E-me-a)|
|Content Below :||What is Cholesterol · What is LDL Cholesterol · What is HDL Cholesterol · Normal Cholesterol Range | Good Cholesterol Levels · High Cholesterol Symptoms · Natural Treatments|
To understand the side effects and symptoms of high cholesterol, it helps to first understand what cholesterol is. (The word “cholesterol” is derived from the Greek words chole or “bile”, and stereos or “solid”.)
Cholesterol (ko-LES-ter-ol) is a fat-like waxy substance made by our liver and found in food. It has been getting a lot of bad press, but the truth is that it is actually important to our health and serves many vital functions in our body. For instance we need cholesterol to :
- Build and maintain the membranes of every cell.
- Strengthen our immune system.
- Enable our skin to convert sunshine to vitamin D.
- Produce the adrenal gland hormones.
- Produce sex hormones, namely estrogens and androgens.
- Make bile acids, which aid in fat digestion and metabolism of the fat soluble vitamins such as vitamins A, D, E, and K.
- Maintain a healthy intestinal lining that protects against autoimmune diseases.
The problem is when we have too much of it. Excess cholesterol in the blood (or hypercholesterolemia) is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke.
Our liver usually makes about 1,000 milligrams of cholesterol a day, which is enough for our needs. We also take in cholesterol from animal-based foods, typically another 200 to 300 milligrams a day. Plant-based foods do not contain cholesterol.
But the real culprits are saturated and trans fats. The more saturated fat we eat – the kind of fat found in particularly high levels in food such as red meat, deep fried foods, and dairy products – the more cholesterol our body makes. This is what may lead to excessively high blood cholesterol levels. (Some liver disorders can also lead to symptoms of high cholesterol.)
Cholesterol, being fat-based, cannot dissolve in blood. Like the other fats it has to be transported in the bloodstream by lipoproteins. Lipoproteins comprise lipid (fat) on the inside and proteins on the outside.
There are a few types of lipoproteins, but the two that carry cholesterol are LDL or low-density lipoproteins, and HDL or high-density lipoproteins. Cholesterol has different effects on the body depending on which type of lipoprotein carries it.
LDL cholesterol is cholesterol carried in low-density lipoproteins, which transport cholesterol from the liver to cells. Most cholesterol in the body is LDL cholesterol. It is the kind that, in excess, builds up on the walls of blood vessels, and clogs up arteries.
For this reason, LDL cholesterol is called “bad” cholesterol. The higher the LDL cholesterol level in the blood, the greater the risk of stroke and heart disease, and other symptoms of high cholesterol.
HDL cholesterol is cholesterol in high-density lipoproteins, which transport cholesterol from other parts of the body back to the liver. The liver then processes the cholesterol and removes it from the body.
HDL cholesterol is therefore considered “good” cholesterol as it clears LDL cholesterol from the blood. The higher the HDL cholesterol level, the lower the risk of heart attack and stroke.
Healthy levels of both LDL and HDL cholesterol are important. To protect against heart disease, the HDL cholesterol level should be at least 25% of total cholesterol levels.
What is considered the normal cholesterol range or good cholesterol levels depends on our gender, age, and genes. For a general guide however see the American Heart Association guidelines below. They are based on a “lipoprotein profile” blood test done after a 9 to 12 hour fast.
Note: Cholesterol levels are measured in milligrams (mg) of cholesterol per deciliter (1 dL = one-tenth of a liter) of blood. To get the equivalent in mmol/l (millimoles/liter), divide by 39.
|TOTAL CHOLESTEROL LEVEL|
|Less than 200 mg/dL||Good cholesterol levels that put you at lower risk of heart disease|
|200 to 239 mg/dL||Borderline high|
|240 mg/dL and above||High. More than twice the risk of heart disease as levels below 200 mg/dL.|
|LDL CHOLESTEROL LEVEL|
|Less than 100 mg/dL||Optimal level|
|100 to 129 mg/dL||Desirable|
|130 to 159 mg/dL||Borderline high|
|160 to 189 mg/dL||High|
|190 mg/dL and above||Very high|
|HDL CHOLESTEROL LEVEL|
|Less than 40 mg/dL (for men)
Less than 50 mg/dL (women)
|Low HDL cholesterol level. Major risk factor for stroke and heart disease.|
|60 mg/dL and above||High HDL cholesterol level. Helps protect against stroke and heart disease.|
The above numbers and normal cholesterol range should be taken only as a rough guide. They need to be interpreted by your healthcare provider in light of other factors such as your gender, age, physical inactivity, family predisposition, race, and weight, and whether you smoke, or have high blood pressure or diabetes.
Symptoms of high cholesterol are rare. In extreme cases of severely high cholesterol, especially in people who inherit a susceptibility to it known as familial hypercholesterolemia, there might be cholesterol deposits around the eyes and elsewhere on skin. These show up as yellow patches called xanthomas.
The deposits can also cause nodules in tendons in the hands or feet. The liver or spleen might be enlarged (which the doctor can feel in a physical examination) or there may be abdominal pain if pancreatitis develops.
In most cases however, there are no obvious warning signs or symptoms of high cholesterol. The only way to know whether you have a high or a normal cholesterol range, or good cholesterol levels, is from a blood test.
Those who do not check their levels may not know they have cholesterol problems until they experience the symptoms of high cholesterol-induced diseases, such as atherosclerosis (hardening and narrowing of arteries due to cholesterol deposits, or plaque, that build up over time in the arteries).
Atherosclerosis (and indirectly high cholesterol) symptoms can include:
- Angina, which are chest pains due to narrowed heart arteries.
- Stroke or heart attack (coronary thrombosis) due to ruptured blood vessels, or clots from ruptured plaques that block arteries delivering blood to the brain or heart. One symptom of heart attack is severe chest pains behind the breast bone, often radiating to the left arrm.
- Peripheral vascular disease which refers to blockage of blood vessels that carry blood to parts of the body other than the brain and heart, such as to the legs, arms, stomach or kidneys. It causes ischemia (lack of blood supply), with symptoms ranging from pain to cold feet, bluish discoloration, gangrene, and tissue death.
- In the early stages, a common symptom is leg fatigue or cramping or pain during activity, due to narrowed leg arteries.
Other high cholesterol symptoms include gallstones, as cholesterol forms a large part of the most common type of gallstones, known as cholesterol stones.
There are a few natural measures that help to alleviate symptoms of high cholesterol. Avoiding saturated or trans fats is one. Exercise and cutting down on smoking and alcohol intake are very important as well.
Taking certain nutrients can also help to balance your cholesterol levels and bring them into the normal cholesterol range. For a short explanation of how statin drugs used in conventional treatment work compared to how natural nutrients work, see cholesterol-reducing supplements.
A healthy balanced diet also contributes to good cholesterol levels.
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