Cholesterol is an essential ingredient to our survival! This may come as a surprise, as many of us are used to hearing that cholesterol is BAD for our body!
The truth is that it is one of the basic elements that provide structure to our body organs such as the skin, heart, liver, and even required for their maintenance in case of wear and tear. Our body needs it for multiple vital functions such as to:
- protect the nerves,
- build cell tissues,
- produce specific hormones,
- generation of vitamin D,
- and for the generation of some digestive enzymes
It is a waxy and fat-like substance and is present in all the cells of the human body. Unlike Glucose, it cannot move into our body on its own but has to be transported via carriers – The Lipoproteins (another structural element).
Our bodies can make all the cholesterol that we need. And, we can also get it from animal products such as milk, cheese, egg yolks, meat etcetera.
Cholesterol Classification and Functionality
There are two primary actions happening inside our body all the time to maintain the necessary cholesterol levels.
- Low-Density Lipoproteins (LDL) carry cholesterol to various body parts for regular or urgent needs – termed as the BAD-Cholesterol
- High-density lipoproteins (HDL) remove the excess cholesterol from different body parts and from the bloodstream – termed as GOOD-Cholesterol
Cholesterol acts as a band-aid to repair the worn out or damaged cells in our body. Our blood vessels or arteries will often get damaged when our blood has a high concentration of solids such as Fatty acids and Minerals (which happens due to poor eating habits and lifestyle choices).
In case of damage, LDLs start pouring in the cholesterol to patch up the damaged portion. This acts as a starting point of the plaque formation inside our vessels.
Hence, when your bloodstream contains undesired solids – plaques start to form on a regular basis and even grow in size, making your arteries narrow. This is the trigger point of further complications related to blood pressure and heart health.
While essentially, your body is only trying to fix the internal damage with LDL-cholesterol, they are also termed as the bad actors for general understanding. High cholesterol is actually the presence of high levels of LDL in the bloodstream. In this article, we will refer to high levels of cholesterol as high LDL-Cholesterol levels.
What should be the normal cholesterol levels?
The perfect cholesterol-level should be maintained to reduce the risk of heart disease.
- Total cholesterol level – below 200 is best but depends on the HDL and LDL distribution profile
- Levels of LDL – below 130 is best, but this also depends on the risk of heart disease
- Levels of HDL – 60 or above it reduces the risk of heart disease
- Triglycerides – lower than 150 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl) is best
Symptoms of high LDL – Bad Cholesterol
Generally, there are no signs or symptoms of having high LDL. But people who have pain in the chest, heart attack, stroke or feel uncomfortable during walking should test their blood to know their LDL level.
The frequency of measuring the level depends on one’s age, risk factors, and family history. Here are general recommendations for testing LDL level.
For people aged 19 or younger:
- Initially, the test should be done between ages 9 to 11
- The test should be done following every 5 years
- If there is a family history of high blood LDL levels, heart attack, or stroke, children should have a test starting at age 2.
For people aged 20 or more:
- Younger adults may test their LDL in every 5 years
- Men, whose ages in between 45 and 65 and women, in between 55 to 65 should go for a test in every 1 to 2 years,
Reasons for high LDL – Bad Cholesterol
As the LDL levels in the blood increase, it will unite with other substances in the blood and forms plaque. The process, by which plaque is formed, is known as atherosclerosis.
Plaque sticks to the walls of the arteries, then make them narrow and ultimately blocks the arteries. Thus, it leads to coronary artery disease.
Besides the production of cholesterol in the liver, we also get it from certain foods. There are some foods which are rich in fats and too much eating of these foods increases our level. Here are the primary reasons:
- Poor eating habits – It is one of the main causes of a high level of bad fats in the blood. Some meats, dairy products, chocolates, deep-fried, baked and processed foods contain saturated fat. Besides these, some fried and processed foods are rich in Trans fats. Excess eating of these fats can increase the LDL (bad) cholesterol.
- Overweight and lack of physical activity- Being overweight and lack of physical activity can lead to high LDL. If we sit long hours without any exercise or physical activity, it may lower our HDL (good) cholesterol and increase LDL.
- Smoking- This is also another cause, which lowers HDL, and increases LDL.
- Heredity- Some people have high cholesterol due to genetics. Familial hypercholesterolemia (FH) is a hereditary cause.
- Medicines- Sometimes specific medicines cause high LDL.
Health problems related to high LDL
A large deposition of plaque in the arteries can rupture that part of the artery. In this area, there may be a blood clot and a large clot can stop blood flow in a coronary artery. When the blood flow slows down or blocked, you will have chest pain or heart attack.
Plaque is not restricted to a specific area; rather it can be formed in other arteries that take oxygen loaded blood to the brain and limbs. Therefore other health problems like stroke, carotid artery disease, and peripheral arterial disease occur.
Can we prevent high levels of LDL?
Healthy lifestyles always contribute good health. To decrease the LDL levels, one should follow a healthy eating plan, regular physical activity including yoga, exercises, and weight management.
For some cases, lifestyle changes alone may not decrease the risk of heart problems and high cholesterol. Depending on your health condition, you may have to take treatment under a specialist.
Ayurveda provides detailed list of herbs, diet, and lifestyle practices that help to improve fat metabolism and lower down high cholesterol levels.
List of foods and physical activity to reduce LDL levels
- Reduce the intake of foods that contain saturated fat and always take less than 200 mg of LDL from your eating food.
- Eat fiber-rich foods like cereals, certain fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils, peas and foods containing plant stanols and sterols.
- Green leafy vegetables (spinach, moringa, methi, curry leaves), cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli), and sluphurus vegetables (garlic, onion, leeks) are specifically helpful to reduce cholesterol.
- Make it a habit of eating a lesser amount of saturated fat-containing foods like red meat and dairy products.
- Consume healthy fats from seeds and nuts like walnuts, and almonds, and fishes that contain Omega-3 fatty acid, such as salmon and herring, etc.
- Different physical activities including yoga and pranayama (breathing exercises) support natural detoxification of the body and reduce the levels of cholesterol.
- If you are currently inactive, then start with simple exercises like walking; biking, jogging, swimming, etc
- Make sure that you regularly do some physical work not less than 30 minutes.