Cholesterol is an important substance that performs crucial functions in the body. However, it is a substance that can be both good and bad. As we all know, too much of a good or necessary thing can be dangerous to our health. Cholesterol has an important role in helping the body to produce certain hormones, vitamin D, bile acids for the digestive system, as well as maintaining healthy cells throughout the entire body. But, the concentration of cholesterol in the blood can get too high, reaching dangerous levels that put one at risk for heart disease or a heart attack.
One of the main factors involved in maintaining a healthy ratio of good (HDL) and bad cholesterol (LDL) is a person’s lifestyle. Being overweight, a smoker, eating a diet that is high in saturated fat, and not engaging in any physical activity greatly increase the risk of developing a problem with cholesterol. Diet and exercise both have a great affect on our blood and how it circulates throughout the body, therefore having a direct effect on the delicate balance of HDL and LDL cholesterol.
Genetics also play an important role. Problems with high cholesterol are sometimes due to genetics, and a family history of heart disease or stroke is a good indication that a risk may be present. If an immediate family member such as a parent or sibling has experienced problems relating to cholesterol, it is possible that you are at risk of having the same issue.
Other health-related issues can also cause raised cholesterol levels. Kidney disease, liver disease, stroke, alcoholism, polycystic ovary syndrome, and an underactive thyroid gland can all have a serious effect on the balance between HDL, or good cholesterol, and LDL, or bad cholesterol. Diabetes can also upset this balance; high blood sugar often means having a higher LDL cholesterol and lower HDL cholesterol.
Unfortunately, high cholesterol generally has no symptoms to warn of a problem, so can only be detected by periodically visiting a doctor and having a blood test done. Many people often go for an extended period having no idea that there is a problem. The good news is, high cholesterol can be treated. If a blood test shows an increase in cholesterol, the first step would be to make changes to your diet and to get a bit more exercise. If you are a smoker, you will also be advised to take necessary steps to kick the habit immediately. Cessation of smoking, increased physical activity and consuming a diet low in saturated fat in most cases will dramatically lower cholesterol after a few months.
Depending on the level of LDL that is present in the blood test, medication may be prescribed. For those at a high risk of heart attack or heart disease, statins are often prescribed. It should be noted that this is generally for the more serious cases, as statins need to be taken regularly for life. In other situations, aspirin may be prescribed, or Ezetimibe, which prevents the intestines from absorbing cholesterol.
By maintaining a heart healthy diet, engaging in regular exercise a few times a week, avoiding tobacco products, and drinking alcohol in moderation while scheduling routine blood screens, cholesterol can be treated or prevented completely.