Treating and Managing High Cholesterol
Cholesterol, when kept at healthy levels, is a natural and necessary component of your body. It’s when levels get high that people need to be concerned. High cholesterol, or hypercholesterolemia, is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke.
High cholesterol levels may lead to the development of fatty deposits in your blood vessels, which makes it difficult for blood to flow through your arteries properly. Your heart may not get as much oxygen-rich blood as it needs, which increases the risk of a heart attack. Decreased blood flow to your brain can cause a stroke.
The three types of cholesterol include:
Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) – LDL is often referred to as the “bad” cholesterol, as it builds up in the walls of your arteries, making them hard and narrow. LDLs are a class of lipoprotein particles which carry cholesterol in the blood and around the body, for use by your cells.
High-density lipoprotein (HDL) – HDL is the “good” cholesterol. It picks up excess cholesterol and experts say that it moves it away from your arteries and returns it to your liver, where it is then passed from your body.
Very-low-density lipoprotein (VLDL) – This type of lipoprotein contains the most triglycerides, a fat that is attached to the proteins in your blood. Like LDL cholesterol, VLDL cholesterol makes LDL cholesterol particles larger, causing your blood vessels to narrow.
Heart Disease – This describes a range of diseases that affect your heart and blood vessels. Diseases include, blood vessels diseases, such as coronary artery disease; abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias); and congenital heart defects.
Stroke – A stroke happens when the blood supply to your brain is interrupted or severely reduced, depriving brain tissue of oxygen and nutrients. Early treatment is crucial to minimize brain damage and other complications.
One of the dangers of high cholesterol is that it has no symptoms. It’s a silent ailment that can only be detected with a blood test. However, in extreme cases of high blood pressure, there may be the following possible symptoms:
- Severe headache
- Vision problems
- Chest pain
- Difficulty breathing
- Irregular heartbeat
- Blood in the urine
- Pounding in the chest, neck, or ears.
Talk to your doctor about the appropriate schedule for blood cholesterol tests.
Often, cholesterol levels are high due to lifestyle choices. While an unhealthy diet, obesity, and inactivity can cause high cholesterol, sometimes high cholesterol has a genetic component and can be passed down from your parents.
Smoking – It’s a tough habit to beat, but cigarette smoking is one of the most unhealthy lifestyle choices you can make. It damages the walls of your blood vessels, which makes them more likely to accumulate fatty deposits. To add insult to injury, smoking can also lower your level of the good HDL cholesterol.
Obesity – If you are obese have a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more, you are at risk for high cholesterol.
Poor Diet – Foods high in cholesterol or saturated fat will increase your cholesterol levels. This includes red meat, full-fat dairy products, and trans fats, which can be found in man-made products such as crackers and cookies.
No Exercise – Inactivity has many downsides, including the potential for high cholesterol. Exercise has a multi-prong approach to improving your cholesterol levels: you lose weight, it boosts HDL “good” cholesterol and lowers LDL “bad” cholesterol.
High Blood Pressure – Increased blood pressure on your artery walls damages your arteries, but it also speeds up the accumulation of fatty deposits in your arteries.
Diabetes – Diabetes and high blood sugar also contributes to higher LDL cholesterol and lower HDL cholesterol.
Medication can be effective in reducing high cholesterol levels. If you have tried making the appropriate lifestyle changes and still haven’t seen enough of a reduction in your cholesterol, your doctor may recommend one of the following medications.
Statins – They one of the more popular prescriptions for controlling cholesterol levels. They block a substance that your liver needs to make cholesterol. Top statin brand drugs include:
Bile-Acid-Binding Resins – These medications lower cholesterol by binding to bile acids. The liver then produces more bile to replace the bile that has been lost. Because the body needs cholesterol to make bile, the liver uses up the cholesterol in the blood, reducing the amount of LDL cholesterol in the blood. Cholestyramine (Questran, Questran Light) is used in a powder that dissolves in liquid. Colesevelam (Welchol) is available in tablets.
Cholesterol Absorption Inhibitors – Just as the name suggests, these medications block dietary cholesterol from entering into the bloodstream. Well-known brand-name cholesterol absorption inhibitors include, Zetia and Ezetrol.
Cholesterol Alternative Treatments
Talk with your doctor before starting an herbal remedy for lowering cholesterol. But, here are treatments that have found support in the alternative medicine community:
Green Tea – Studies support the notion that drinking green tea on a regular basis can help lower your bad cholesterol, and raise the good kind. It is thought that the polyphenols in green tea may block the absorption of cholesterol in the intestines and promote its excretion from the body.
Psyllium – Psyllium husk comes from the crushed seeds of the plantago ovata plant. The FDA approves of the following a health claim: 3g to 12g soluble fiber from psyllium seed husk when included as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease.
Guggul – Also known as commiphora mukul and Indian bedellium, guggul has been shown to be an effective treatment for high cholesterol.
Natural Dietary Sources – Vitamin E, garlic, artichoke, essential fatty acids and fiber all naturally lower cholesterol.
High cholesterol is largely preventable. A healthy diet, regular exercise and not smoking can all keep cholesterol at healthy levels. If high cholesterol runs in the family, regular blood tests are advised.
Centers for Disease Control http://www.cdc.gov/Cholesterol/resources.htm