There are a large number of factors, some genetic, that play a role in the amounts of cholesterol that are in your blood. For instance, if a close relative is diagnosed, having high cholesterol, it is quite likely that you will also have high cholesterol.
However, there are many other factors that affect levels of cholesterol, including diet and exercise, that need to be considered. Below we are going to explore the different risk factors for cholesterol and the different ways to manage them.
What causes high cholesterol levels in the body?
There are two types of cholesterol. The first, LDL, is referred to as ‘bad’ cholesterol and high levels of LDL in the body is considered unhealthy. The other type of cholesterol, HDL, is referred to as ‘good’ cholesterol. Having higher levels of HDL is considered to be healthy.
When you are diagnosed with high cholesterol it usually means that your LDL cholesterol levels are high or that your total level of cholesterol is high. Your total cholesterol level is referring to your combined LDL and HDL levels and also your 20 percent of your triglycerides. These levels of LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol can be used when determining the risks for developing heart problems or other health issues.
Many things can contribute towards high levels of cholesterol and these include genetics and also lifestyle preferences and/or both.
Familial high cholesterol vs. high cholesterol
As we pointed out if you have a close family member with high cholesterol it could well be that you will also have high levels yourself. It is referred to as familial hypercholesterolemia and is passed on through the genes, via parents to children and increases levels of cholesterol in the blood owing to a defective receptor.
Higher cholesterol levels can be found in people who have inherited familial hypercholesterolemia notwithstanding their lifestyle choices. This means that they are less able to control their cholesterol levels in the same way as other people, through diet and exercise.
It may be necessary to use some form of medication to control it more efficiently. However, even though you may have a genetic risk for high cholesterol doesn’t mean that you will develop it.
Being obese or having a wide waistline.
It could be that genetically you are more predisposed to having a large waist circumference or towards being obese. Both of these will increase your chance of developing high cholesterol and lifestyle choices will also play a part.
Being obese means that you have a BMI, body mass index, of 30 or more. A large middle or waist area is considered to be 35 inches for women and 40 for men. Fat that is stored around the waist raises the risk of developing high cholesterol and other cardiovascular issues.
High blood sugar
LDL cholesterol can be raised by high levels of glucose and this can also decrease good HDL cholesterol. Glucose in the blood also has the ability to damage the lining of arteries and can result in fatty deposits building up in the arteries.
As with obesity and waist circumference, high blood sugar can also have a genetic component. But other things like choosing foods containing high amounts of sugar can also lead to high blood sugar levels.
There are some things that we know increase the risk for high cholesterol that can be totally controlled by the choices we make. For instance, diet, physical exercise and smoking.
We know that a diet that is full of saturated and trans fats will likely increase your cholesterol levels. Foods such as red meat, full fat milk and yogurts, fried foods and processed sweets and goods.
Studies show that physical exercise can lower your LDL cholesterol and at the same time raise your HDL cholesterol. Therefore, regular exercise is important for healthy levels of cholesterol. 30 minutes daily, or about 2.5 hours per week of moderate to high-intensity aerobic exercise should be the goal. Start slowly and gradually increase it but be sure to check in with your doctor before starting any exercise routine.
Smoking is totally not good for your health and wellbeing. It is known that it damages the wall of the blood vessels and therefore increases the chances of fat deposits from building up. Giving up smoking should be an important goal.
High cholesterol can lead to health complications.
If you have unhealthy levels of cholesterol this may decrease the flow of blood through the vessels and with time may lead to stroke, heart disease or peripheral arterial disease.
How to diagnose high cholesterol?
The only way to know your cholesterol levels is via a blood test. The blood test will show you the following results:
• Total cholesterol
• HDL cholesterol
• LDL cholesterol
You should not eat or drink for about 10 hours prior to taking the blood test in order to get the most accurate result.
Most people should start testing their cholesterol levels at around 35 years of age and thereafter every 5 years. However, if you have any risk factors for high cholesterol or cardiovascular issues you should begin testing in your 20s and more often than every 5 years.
You can get tested for familial hypercholesterolemia and if you do test positive you should test your cholesterol levels more frequently.
How to treat and prevent high cholesterol
It may take a combination of prescription medications and lifestyle changes in order to manage cholesterol levels. And there are a number of things that you can do in order to reduce the risk of developing high cholesterol.
These include the following:
• Follow a healthy diet that consists of protein, fiber-rich grains and unsaturated fats. This will lower LDL cholesterol which is harmful. A healthy diet should include lots of green vegetables, oatmeal, beans and lentils, wholegrain bread, low-fat dairy products and low-fat meats, like skinned chicken.
• Animal-based saturated fats, like full-fat dairy and red meat plus processed sweets, should be avoided.
• Regular exercise should become part of your daily routine.
• Stop or reduce smoking to the absolute minimum. There are support groups that you can join which will increase your success in giving up the habit considerably.
• Maintaining healthy body weight, with a BMI below 30.
• Limiting the amount of alcohol that you consume is also very important. You should limit drinking to one drink per day for women and two for men.
• In some cases, prescription drugs may be recommended to reduce cholesterol levels. Statins may be the drug prescribed but these should be used in conjunction with healthy lifestyle choices.