Published: 07/09/2014 - Updated: 04/27/2016
Our body needs cholesterol in order to produce hormones and digestive enzymes. That’s why our body produces all the cholesterol that we need, however, cholesterol is also present in the foods we eat.
Regardless, high levels of cholesterol – especially “bad” cholesterol – can put our health at risk.
What is bad cholesterol?
Cholesterol moves through our blood stream in the form of lipoproteins, which are small fat deposits in the interior ad proteins on the exterior.
There are two types of lipoproteins that transport cholesterol: low density lipoproteins (LDL) and high density lipoproteins (HDL). It’s important to have normal levels of both lipoproteins.
LDL cholesterol is considered bad because elevated levels of LDL can cause cholesterol to accumulate in the arteries, forming plaque which can obstruct circulation if they come loose, and cause serious heart attacks.
While HDL cholesterol is considered “good”. This is because it collects cholesterol from other areas of the body to take it once again to the liver, which then eliminates it.
High cholesterol and health risks
Even though our body needs cholesterol, having too much cholesterol in the blood is dangerous. In most cases, there are no “symptoms” of high cholesterol, which is why it can frequently go unnoticed.
Having high levels of LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, increases our risk of suffering from cardiovascular disease. However, the higher our levels of HDL cholesterol, or “good” cholesterol, the lower our chances are of having cardiovascular disease. This is why it’s advisable not only to reduce your cholesterol, but to reduce your bad cholesterol, while trying to raise “good” cholesterol levels.
This because when we have high levels of bad cholesterol in the blood, it can stick to artery walls, forming plaque. This plaque gets hard over time and stretches the artery walls, complicating blood circulations and oxygen flow. This plaque formation is called atherosclerosis.
If the plaque breaks, it can obstruct blood flow, thus creating angina or a heart attack. Plaque can also block other arteries, leading to brain damage or peripheral artery disease.
Reducing our levels of bad cholesterol in the blood also reduces our risks of suffering from the following diseases:
High cholesterol levels
It’s important to have our doctor inform us about cholesterol and what constitutes healthy blood levels. If your results exceed the recommended cholesterol levels, it might be necessary to reevaluate you after having received treatment and changing habits, for a follow up.
The following cholesterol levels are frequently recommended:
LDL cholesterol: Considered bad cholesterol, should be less than 100 mg/dl. If you’ve had previous heart disease, your doctor may recommend that you keep it below 70 mg/dl
HDL cholesterol: Considered good cholesterol, should be at least 60 mg/dl.
Total cholesterol: the sum of both good and bad cholesterol. Ideally this would be less than 200 mg/dl. Between 200 and 239 mg/dl is considered dangerous, and higher than that range is very high.
Lastly come the triglycerides – another type of fat in the blood that, in excess, can be equally dangerous. Ideally this should be less than 150 mg/dl.
If your doctor finds it necessary, they may prescribe you pharmaceutical drugs to lower your cholesterol. However, it’s best to make healthy and permanent changes in order to reduce cholesterol levels, and in that way not depend always on medication.
Recommendations for reducing cholesterol
First and foremost, we should always be aware of our cholesterol levels. That’s why it’s important to have an annual checkup to check cholesterol levels in the blood.
In order to maintain healthy cholesterol levels, we must reduce our consumption of it, especially if you’re genetically predisposed to have high cholesterol levels.
It’s important to avoid eating foods high in cholesterol, which is found in animal food products. Eggs, meat, and dairy are all sources of cholesterol.
Consuming foods rich in fiber, such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables, is important in reducing cholesterol levels. Fiber prevents the cholesterol we consume in our diet from absorbing completely. Legumes, whole grains, and fresh fruits and vegetables are all excellent options.
Lastly, exercise is important, as it helps in reducing bad cholesterol levels in the blood and raises good cholesterol levels. It’s necessary to perform regular exercise.