by Kimberly Allen R.N.
Cholesterol is an organic fatty substance that is classified as a waxy steroid of fat. What does cholesterol look like? It looks just like crisco. Cholesterol is very important for several reasons. One it is a critical component of cell membranes and is necessary for the permeability of the cell membrane as well as it’s fluidity.
Cholesterol also plays a critical role in the biosynthesis of vitamin D, bile acids a d steroid hormones. The problems arise when there is too much cholesterol in the bloodstream. Because cholesterol is a fatty substance it is unable to dissolve in the bloodstream and be transported to where ever it is needed. The excess cholesterol then sticks to the sides of your blood vessel walls because it has nowhere else to go and it doesn’t dissolve.
There are different types of cholesterol, the 2 most referred to are the LDL (low density lipids) or “bad cholesterol” and the HDL (high density lipids) or “good cholesterol”. the LDL cholesterol sticks to the inner walls of your arteries leading to numerous complications while the HDL cholesterol works in the opposite manor by removing cholesterol from the arterial walls and then depositing them into the liver for removal. The National Institutes of Health recommends that your cholesterol level be less than 200. People with levels between 200-239 are borderline high. All cholesterol levels above 240 are considered high.
One of the things that makes a high cholesterol level so dangerous is thee are no symptoms therefore it can lead to life threatening consequences without you being the wiser. Cholesterol deposits on your arterial walls can lead to numerous health issues, it essentially causes a snowballing effect that eventually leads to life threatening conditions like heart attacks and strokes. There are a couple of way that can occur. One, the artery wall becomes congested with cholesterol leading to atherosclerosis which in turn leads to hypertension which in turn can lead to a heart attack or stroke. Another way excess cholesterol can lead to heart attack or stroke is if the cholesterol plaques tear or rupture the blood vessel walls, allowing a piece to break off and travel through the bloodstream. Then when it tries to travel through the smaller blood vessels like those in the heart and brain it blocks the vessel and the blood is unable to get through to the waiting cells.
In addition to the cholesterol we take in through our diet cholesterol is also produced in our liver. Some people are genetically predisposed to high cholesterol, they either over produce cholesterol or are unable to effectively process it. all other factors are environmental and controlled by you. The number one factor you can control is diet. A diet high in animal fat, especially organ meats like liver and high fat dairy products as well as trans fats, can overload your system with cholesterol. Obesity and lack of exercise also significantly impact your cholesterol level. Exercise actually increases your “good” cholesterol in your body which helps to decrease your “bad” cholesterol. Underlying diseases like diabetes also has the potential to lead to increased cholesterol levels if not under control because the increased blood sugar levels damage the lining of your arterial walls.
High cholesterol is one of those conditions that you can control by making the right choices. The first thing you need to do is look at your diet. If your diet is high in animal fat and high fat dairy products look for alternatives. Some foods that have been shown to decrease the level of “bad” cholesterol are oat bran, garlic , artichokes and barley. If you are unsure what you should or shouldn’t eat talk to your Dr about a nutritional consult or you can do your own research. Once you decide to make the dietary changes needed it’s time to start an exercise program. Regular exercise is crucial not only to lower your cholesterol level but also to improve and maintain your heart health. Once you’ve gotten those two things going losing weight, if needed, will come much easier. With proper diet and exercise losing weight is not only easier it becomes a natural part of your lifestylw. Other things that you should do to increase you chances for living a heart healthy life is to limit your alcohol intake and if you smoke, quit. many people can avoid taking medications if the make the needed lifestyle changes.
Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to HealthAndFitnessTalk.com, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.