Cholesterol can build up in your arteries, restricting or even blocking blood flow to the heart or other areas of the body. If this happens, organs or extremities may not receive sufficient oxygen, which can cause a number of serious health issues. Lipoproteins carry cholesterol through the bloodstream. Two varieties of lipoproteins exist: low-density and high-density lipoproteins. Low-density lipoproteins (LDL) are associated with bad cholesterol levels, and high-density lipoproteins (HDL) are associated with good cholesterol levels. As you strive to maintain optimal health, it’s important to monitor your good and bad cholesterol levels.
Negative effects of high cholesterol
A number of factors can affect your cholesterol level. While genetics can play a role in whether someone develops high cholesterol, diet, activity level, and obesity are also important factors. A diagnosis of high cholesterol generally involves elevated LDL levels in the bloodstream. Low-density lipoproteins accumulate gradually over time as people age. Healthy arteries are smooth, enabling blood to flow easily. Arteries can become damaged as blood filled with LDLs moves through. With this damage, plaque begins to accumulate on the insides of arteries, restricting blood flow. Arteries may bulge, and blood clots can form. Eventually, a significant health event such as a heart attack or stroke may occur.
Diseases associated with high cholesterol
A number of diseases have a link to high cholesterol. For this reason, it’s important to monitor your cholesterol levels to ensure that you are not at risk for developing serious health issues. Coronary heart disease is the main health issue commonly developed by people with high cholesterol. Plaque accumulating in arteries often leads to atherosclerosis, which involves restricted blood flow in arteries. Restricted blood flow could result in a heart attack if it involves blood flow to the heart or a stroke if it involves blood flow to the brain. Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and peripheral vascular disease are additional diseases associated with high cholesterol levels.
Good vs. Bad cholesterol
Low-density and high-density cholesterol have different effects on the body. The purpose of LDL cholesterol is to transport cholesterol from the liver to waiting cells. If the body accumulates an overabundance of LDL cholesterol, it will build up in arteries, causing health issues. The purpose of HDL cholesterol is to transport cholesterol from cells back to the liver. Once the liver receives HDL cholesterol, it either breaks it down or passes it on for the body to eliminate. Consequently, an accumulation of HDL would not cause harmful health issues.
Foods for reducing cholesterol level
The foods you eat can be an effective way to lower your cholesterol level. By reducing your intake of saturated fat to less than 7 percent of your total daily calories, increasing the amount of soluble fiber you eat, and adding more plant stanols and sterols to your diet, you can gradually bring your LDL cholesterol level back into healthy limits. Saturated fats are present in fatty meats, whole-milk dairy, and lard. Trans fatty acids behave similarly to saturated fats in the body, so it’s important to avoid foods containing hydrogenated vegetable oils. Soluble fibers are present in foods such as oatmeal, fruits, vegetables, and legumes. Plant stanols and sterols occur naturally in grains, nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables. They can also be added ingredients in some foods, such as orange juice.
Other ways to reduce cholesterol levels
A physician may recommend other options for reducing cholesterol levels. Some methods are low-tech, involving lifestyle changes. For example, adding an exercise regimen of cardiovascular activity to your daily routine can help lower cholesterol levels. Daily exercise can result in weight loss, which generally improves cholesterol levels. Exercise may also improve how LDL cholesterol moves through the bloodstream, resulting in cholesterol-level improvements. A high-tech treatment option involves prescribed medication that can help lower LDL cholesterol levels.
Written by Judith Haluka Mar 30, 2017
Last reviewed and updated by Michael A. Tomeo MD on Nov 25, 2017