what is cholesterol?

Many people ask the question, what is cholesterol? It is an oil-based substance found in blood (though it does not mix with the blood, which is water-based) and in all cells of the body. It travels around the body in lipoproteins categorized as LDL and HDL.

Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is unhealthy or “bad” cholesterol.

High-density lipoprotein (HDL) is  “good” cholesterol.

Cholesterol is both good and bad. At normal levels, it is essential for the body but, if concentrations in the blood get too high, it becomes a danger rendering one at risk of a heart attack.

Facts You Should Know

  1. Your liver makes all the cholesterol needed by your body. 
  2. Other sources are from the foods you eat, especially meat, eggs, poultry, and dairy products.
  3. Foods that are high in dietary fat make your liver produce more amounts.
  4. Having a high diagnosis does not have visible symptoms. 

Functions

As mentioned, it is essential for body functions that’s why one of the functions of the liver is to make cholesterol.  It is needed for the following:

  • contributes to the structure of cell walls
  • enables the body to make certain hormones
  • makes up digestive bile acids in the intestine
  • allows the body to produce vitamin D

Risk factors of high cholesterol

Like all diseases, it has causes linked to it. It is important to note that a high diagnosis is not necessarily a result of one’s lifestyle choices. Here are a few factors that put you at risk of high cholesterol:

  • Family history- people with the inherited condition familial hypercholesterolemia tend to have high LDL levels.
  • lifestyle choices
  • Poor diet
  • Lack of exercise
  • diabetes
  • Excess weight or obesity 
  • Genetic factors 
  • liver or kidney disease
  • underactive thyroid gland
  • polycystic ovary syndrome
  • pregnancy and other conditions that increase levels of female hormones
  • drugs that increase LDL cholesterol and decrease HDL cholesterol, such as progestins, anabolic steroids, and corticosteroids

What Can You Do To Lower Cholesterol?

Thankfully, a high diagnosis is not necessarily a death sentence. It is possible to lower high levels but it requires following through with the following:

Testing

A cholesterol test is a blood test that measures the amount of cholesterol and certain fats in your blood. The test is known as a lipid panel, Lipid profile, or lipoprotein profile. 

A lipid panel measures these fats/ types:

  • Total cholesterol
  • LDL (“bad”) cholesterol
  • HDL (“good”) cholesterol
  • Triglycerides, another type of fat that causes hardening of the arteries

Having your cholesterol and triglycerides checked by your doctor regularly goes a long way to ensuring your wellness journey is not affected. 

For those aged 45 years and over, you can be tested during your regular check-up. Ensure you repeat the lipid profile every five years for people who are unlikely to be candidates for treatment based on previous results, and more frequently (every three years) for people who are near or above the threshold for treatment.

Treatment

Routine screening and regular blood tests can help detect high levels.

Fortunately, a number of effective treatment options are available.

If lifestyle changes are futile or the levels are very high, a doctor may prescribe a lipid-lowering drug. Although medications can rapidly lower your levels (within a week), it often takes 6 to 12 months before the effects of lifestyle modifications are noticeable.

Note that the treatment is a lifelong process. Once you have an effective treatment plan and you begin to see results, it is important to stay committed to the plan. 

Stopping mid-treatment puts you at risk for cardiovascular problems like a heart attack or stroke. 

Disclaimer: Patients must speak with a health care provider for complete information about their health, medical questions, and treatment options, including any risks or benefits regarding the use of medications. This information does not endorse any treatments or medications as safe, effective, or approved for treating a specific condition.

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