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A Comprehensive Guide to Cholesterol Levels

High cholesterol is a popular medical condition commonly associated with heart disease but usually misunderstood. What is Cholesterol? It is the main sterol of the human organism. Sterols are type of natural fats present in the body. Cholesterol is found in our body as part of cell membranes, lipoproteins, bile acids and steroid hormones. The cholesterol in the body has two sources: it comes from diet and it is produced by the body itself. The liver is the main producer organ of cholesterol, with other important organs involved in its production as the intestine, adrenal cortex, testes and ovaries. Cholesterol synthesis is regulated mainly by the intake of dietary cholesterol. Because the body can produce its own cholesterol, there is a possibility that people who do not consume excess cholesterol, have some genetic-metabolic disorder that leads to high levels.

High cholesterol and heart disease

The body needs a certain amount of cholesterol to work properly. But too much cholesterol in the blood, combined with other fatty substances, and calcium components, form a plaque that can adhere to the walls of the arteries triggering atherosclerosis. Arteries are blood vessels that carry oxygen and blood to the heart, brain and other body parts. As the plaque builds up in the artery, it is gradually narrower and becomes blocked. As an artery gets more and more narrow, less blood can pass. The artery can also become less elastic (this is called “hardening of the arteries.”). Some plaques are fragile and can break or rupture. When this happens, blood clots are formed within the arteries. If the clot blocks an artery in its entirety, blood flow stops completely. This is what happens in most heart attacks and strokes.

How to test for high cholesterol

Medical professionals typically verify cholesterol levels among the battery of medical check-ups, as the levels of cholesterol in your blood may considerably have an impact on your overall health. To evaluate your blood cholesterol levels, your physician is going to perform a blood test known as a lipid panel, as well as lipid profile. It is recommended to not eat or drink anything, apart from water, for approximately 9 hours before the exam to ensure correct evaluation results. The lipid panel checks 4 different levels: your total or serum cholesterol level, HDL cholesterol levels, LDL cholesterol and also triglycerides levels.

Cholesterol types overview: healthy and bad levels

A lipid test generally determines 4 distinct numbers. Cholesterol being a fat, it is not soluble in water, so it cannot circulate freely in the blood. But the fact is that nature has devised a way to make water soluble cholesterol and transport through the blood: this is by lipoproteins. The LDL or Low density lipoprotein and the HDL (high density lipoprotein) are the 2 fundamental cholesterol types. The LDL is known to be negative (bad), minimizing it will be much better. HDL known to be the positive (good), is better at elevated levels. In addition, the lipid panel appraises the triglycerides (whole fat in a person’s body). They have an impact on the health in the same manners like cholesterol. At last, the total cholesterol (sum of HDL, LDL levels and 20 per cent of triglycerides levels) is integrated as well in the results.

Total cholesterol

The total blood cholesterol level also known as serum cholesterol level is scored depending on the danger of cardiovascular illness every cholesterol level triggers. In the United States, levels of cholesterol are calculated in milligrams of cholesterol for each deciliter of blood. A result of under 200 mg per dL (5.2 mmol/L) is ideal. A level somewhere between 200 to 239 mg per dL (5.2 and 6.2 mmol/L) is within the edge line of high-risk class, in that case your doctor might advise you to develop a preventing low cholesterol diet plan. More than 240 mg per dL (6.3 mmol/L) is the high-risk class and also you will have to function on a therapy with the help of your doctor. Individuals in this group usually have doubly high-risk of cardiovascular illness when compared with people within the ideal class.

Total Cholesterol = HDL Cholesterol  + LDL Cholesterol + (0.2 x Triglycerides)

HDL cholesterol

High density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, the “good” cholesterol assists in maintaining your blood circulating without restraint and arterial blood vessels clear through transporting out the low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL). Due to this advantage, a substantial quantity is much better when it comes to HDL cholesterol. Levels below 40 mg per dL (1 mmol/L) in men and 50 mg per dL (1.3 mmol/L) in women are known to be low, placing you at threat of cardiovascular problems. Normal levels of HDL cholesterol are in between 40 and 49 mg per dL (1 and 1.3 mmol/L) for men and between 50 and 59 mg per dL (1.3 and 1.5 mmol/L) for women. When the level is higher than 60 mg per dL (1.6 mmol/L), it gives you some defense towards coronary heart illness.

LDL cholesterol

Low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, the “bad” cholesterol triggers unhealthy build up on the arterial blood vessels at high levels, reducing the circulation of blood and raising your probability of cardiovascular illness and heart stroke. LDL cholesterol is the very best gauge of risk of cardiac arrest. A low LDL cholesterol is much better. Lower than 100 mg per dL (2.6 mmol/L) is the ideal. Between 100 and 129 mg per dL (2.6 and 3.3 mmol/L) is close to ideal while between 130 and 159 mg per dL (3.4 and 4.1 mmol/L) is borderline elevated. Between 160 and 189 mg per dL (4.1 and 4.9 mmol/L) is elevated and when more than 190 mg per dL (4.9 mmol/L), it is very high. When you are at high probability of having a cardiac arrest, a LDL cholesterol below 70 mg per dL (1.8 mmol/L) is highly advisable.

Triglycerides

Triglycerides are a type of fat which originates from what you eat. Every eaten calories not required by the body are transformed into triglycerides and after that, the body also deposits these in the form of fat. The levels of triglycerides are frequently elevated in individuals who are obese, have small physical exercise, follow a diet plan extremely loaded with carbs, smoke or ingest too much alcohol. The ideal quantity of triglycerides is lower than 150 mg per dL (1.7 mmol/L), the borderline level is between 150 and 199 mg per dL (1.7 and 2.2 mmol/L). Starting from 200 to 499 mg per dL (2.3 and 5.6 mmol/L) is known being high and whatever over 500 mg per dL (5.7 mmol/L) is very elevated.

Cholesterol ratio

Another number very useful to analyze with the values ​​obtained, is the total / HDL cholesterol ratio. This number shows, so to speak, if the HDL levels are sufficient to “manage” the total burden of cholesterol and directly points out the concentration of LDL and VLDL. This is useful when the HDL appears to be adequate but the total cholesterol is too high. Studies have shown that women have higher HDL levels than men. Therefore, the desirable ratio of total / HDL for women is lower.

Man

Woman

Coronary risk

<3.5<3.4Half the average
3.5 to 5.03.4 to 4.5Average
5.1 to 9.64.5 to 7.1Twice the average
9.7 to 247.2 to 11Three times the average

Cholesterol chart

It would be more convenient for everybody to interpret their cholesterol test results if only they could provide just one number as result. Unfortunately, there exist multiple cholesterol types as well as various ideal levels for each. Some cholesterol is considered good, while other cholesterol is bad. Consequently their respective numbers have to stay over or under a particular level based on the particular type. A chart of cholesterol levels enables you to completely grasp besides the meaning of those multiple figures, the positive and the negative or unhealthy ranges.

chart of cholesterol levels - total, HDL, LDL, triglyceridesThe chart here displays all 4 cholesterol figures: HDL, LDL, triglycerides and also total cholesterol. It also displays the good ranges along with risk zones pertaining to each one. The ideal measurements for the total cholesterol is below 200. As for triglycerides, it is below 150. HDL should be 50 plus, under 35 is very risky. Finally LDL should be below 130. These numbers are in unit of mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter of blood) in USA, but they can be in mmol/L (millimoles per liter) unit used in Europe, Canada and other countries. Along with these pointers, it typically shows that a total cholesterol above 240 and triglycerides levels more than 500 is high risk. A number of charts furthermore indicate the borderline between ideal and risky zones. Keep in mind that the above figures are standards and that the chart can be different based on the reference.

Progression charts

A different sort of chart is one particular on which you can track your levels as time goes by. The AHA (American Heart Association) supplies a hassle-free chart that you can print to use whenever a health care professional looks at your levels of cholesterol. This chart features all 4 cholesterol readings as well as gives a space you can set your target. Next, it provides you fields to log the numbers pertaining to each one covering 3 appointments. Preferably, your numbers get closer to your objective at the next check-out.

High cholesterol treatment

In case your levels of cholesterol belong to the risky zones of the chart, you should really consider to seek advice from your health care provider about ways to make positive changes to your levels. When not handled, bad levels of cholesterol may bring about cardiac arrest or cardiovascular accident. For some patients, medical professionals will probably advise prescription drugs in order to normalize the levels. However a wholesome diet plan as well as routine workouts are essential for keeping good levels.

Diet to reduce high cholesterol

The first step in controlling your cholesterol is to eat a balanced diet and be more active. Even small changes can go a long way. A diet to reduce cholesterol is based on simple rules, such as:

– Eating a variety of foods such as fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
– Limiting calories from fat to 35 percent or less of total calories daily.
– Limiting sugar and refined carbs.
– Eating foods with fiber, such as whole grains.

Some people reach their goal by eating a balanced diet and exercising. However, some people also need medication to lower their cholesterol. This is the case of as patients with familial hypercholesterolemia, an inherited disease that trigger high cholesterol from childhood.

Cholesterol lowering medications

Each type of cholesterol lowering drugs works differently to improve cholesterol levels. Some medications can lower your triglycerides. Most people start with a statin because statins usually work well to lower bad cholesterol (LDL). If your bad cholesterol is still too high, your doctor or nurse may increase your dose or adding another cholesterol drug to help you reach your goal. Here are the different types of cholesterol medications and how they work.

- Statins: they work by limiting the cholesterol production of the liver.

- Bile acid sequestrants: these drugs work by decreasing dietary fat absorption.

- Cholesterol absorption inhibitors: they reduce absorption of dietary cholesterol and also reduce triglycerides.

- Fibrates: They function by helping the liver to break down LDL cholesterol but also lowers triglycerides.

- OTC supplements: Niacin to prevent the liver remove the good cholesterol (HDL), it also lowers triglycerides.

Almost all cholesterol drugs are pills. Some come in powder mixed with drinks. Some are taken once a day. Others must be taken more often. With some combinations, medications can not be taken at the same time.

Side effects

All drugs listed above can cause from minor side effects such as heartburn, upset stomach and diarrhea, to serious side effects such as muscle problems, liver problems, anxiety and depression. It is thus important for all people with high cholesterol to follow a heart-healthy diet and exercise to improve their levels. There are also natural supplements to consider.

Recommended natural supplements to improve and maintain healthy levels

Vitamin E

What makes LDL cholesterol bad is in fact its oxidation that creates plaque buildup leading to atherosclerosis. This oxidation can occur in different ways. One of these ways involves free radicals damage and this is where vitamin E comes into play. Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that will deactivate the free radicals shielding cell membranes from damage and preventing LDL oxidation. Less LDL oxidation = Less Atherosclerosis = Reduced Heart Disease Risk.

Fiber supplements

Fiber lowers LDL cholesterol by acting like a sponge that absorb cholesterol by binding it to bile acids for its removal. As result, the body starts lacking of bile acids and the liver is instructed to pull excess LDL cholesterol from the blood for bile production. LDL levels are thus reduced in the bloodstream. According to the UCSF Medical Center and the British Nutrition Foundation, the average daily fiber intake of men and women is 15 grams while the recommended daily intake is 25-30 grams. Supplementing fiber intake is thus recommended.

Fish oil

Numerous studies have demonstrated the critical role of Omega 3 fatty acids in brain, heart and vascular health by helping maintain cell membrane stability, reducing inflammation, lowering triglycerides levels, increasing HDL and improving LDL particles size so they stick less to arterial walls. Human body cannot produce omega 3, so a dietary supply is necessary. Fatty fish such as mackerel, tuna and halibut are the primary sources of the most viable forms of omega 3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. However, these fatty fish can be contaminated with mercury and other toxins. Fish oil supplements can be a good alternative and supply you with a healthy dose of omega 3 without any toxins.

DHA supplements for vegans

If you are vegetarian, allergic to fish or you simply do not like eating fish, you may not be getting enough DHA omega 3 essential fatty acids vital for neurological and cardiovascular health in your diet. Supplementing DHA is thus recommended. The most viable vegan source is Algal DHA extracted from some microscopic algae that in fact are the origin of DHA in fish. According to studies, algal DHA can provide the same health benefits as fish one in lowering triglycerides, increasing HDL and improving LDL particles size.

Warnings

The supplements listed in this guide must be used in conjunction with a healthy diet and exercising to improve cholesterol levels and should not considered as standalone miracle solutions. Some of them may produce side effects or interactions with other medications you may be taking. It is advisable to seek medical advice and work with your doctor to create a plan that works for you.

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