You may have heard about cholesterol being related to your diet or how high cholesterol isn't good for your body. Cholesterol is actually closely related to heart health and according to the WHO, a third of heart diseases are caused by high cholesterol. The good news is that cholesterol is a controllable risk factor, which means that being aware of what it is and following the steps to manage it can help lower your risk of diseases.
What is Cholesterol?Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance in your body that is used to make hormones like vitamin D. Cholesterol either comes from our diet or is synthesized by our body While your body needs cholesterol for essential functions, if you have it in larger quantities, it can be unhealthy. This cholesterol can combine with other substances in your blood to form thick deposits known as plaque that stick to the inner walls of the arteries. Plaque narrows your arteries, reducing the blood flow and making it bad for your heart health. It can even lead to blockages, causing coronary artery disease.
What are the Types of Cholesterol?Cholesterol is carried through the body by particles called lipoproteins. These are a combination of fat (also known as lipid) and protein. These are of different types:
HDLHDL, high-density lipoprotein, is referred to as the 'good' cholesterol. HDL is responsible for carrying cholesterol from other body parts to the liver where it can be then removed. Having a high level of HDL can protect you against heart attack and stroke.
LDLLDL is low-density lipoprotein, which is also referred to as the 'bad' cholesterol. When you have high cholesterol, this is the type of cholesterol that puts you at risk as a high level of LDL causes the build-up of plaque in your arteries.
What Causes High Cholesterol?Having high cholesterol is linked to high LDL but unhealthy levels of cholesterol with low HDL also puts you at risk. According to the Indian Heart Association, cholesterol problems are common in South Asian ethnic groups including Indians. This is not just because of lifestyle factors but also genetic predisposition to lower levels of HDL, the 'good' cholesterol. However, unhealthy cholesterol levels also has other causes, which include the following factors -
- Unhealthy diet: If you have a poor diet that includes eating too much saturated or trans fats (found in processed and junk found), you are likely to have unhealthy levels of cholesterol too.
- Obesity: High cholesterol is also common in those who have a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more. Body mass index is calculated using height and weight with the formula BMI = kg/m2, where kg is the weight in kilograms and m2 is the square of the height in metres. A BMI of 30 or above indicates obesity.
- Low physical activity: Regular exercise can boost the levels of HDL, the good cholesterol in your body. A lack of exercise may be related to low levels of HDL and high LDL.
- Smoking: Smoking cigarettes, apart from causing other health issues, can also lower the HDL levels in your body.
- Alcohol: Your total cholesterol level can increase if you drink too much alcohol, leading to unhealthy cholesterol levels.
What is the Right Level of Cholesterol?Maintaining the right level of cholesterol is important for reducing the risk of heart diseases and reducing the risk of complications if you have been diagnosed. Cholesterol levels are measured through a lipid test which is recommended once every 5 years for adults below the age of 45 years. For men of ages 45-65 and women 55-65, it is recommended to have this test every 1-2 years. Depending on your other health factors or family medical history, your doctor might suggest having this test more or less frequently. According to the Indian Medical Association:
- Your LDL should be under 80 mg/dl
- Your HDL should be over 50 mg/dl
- Your total cholesterol should not be above 180 mg/dl