Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance present in cell membranes and blood plasma. Your body needs healthy levels to function properly. However, elevated cholesterol increases risks for heart disease. Testing and lifestyle changes help control high cholesterol.
What is the Body Cholesterol?
Body cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that is produced in the liver and found throughout the body's cells. Here are some key points about cholesterol in the body:
- It is a type of lipid or fat that is vital for normal body function. It helps make hormones, vitamin D, and substances that aid digestion.
- It enables cell membrane structure, fluidity and signalling between cells.
- The body gets cholesterol through internal production and external food sources.
- LDL (bad) cholesterol builds up in arteries causing atherosclerosis. HDL (good) cholesterol carries cholesterol from tissues back to the liver for elimination.
- Total body cholesterol is maintained through a balance of internal production and consumption from foods.
- Genetics influence cholesterol levels to some extent, but poor diet and lifestyle play a major role.
- High blood cholesterol levels are strongly associated with heart disease, stroke, and other cardiovascular risks.
- Total cholesterol levels less than 200 mg/dL are considered desirable for good health.
- Lifestyle changes like diet, exercise and refraining from smoking can help optimize cholesterol levels.
So in summary, cholesterol is important for body functions, but too much, especially circulating LDL, can lead to plaque build-up and cardiovascular problems over time.
About Cholesterol Testing
Cholesterol tests measure total cholesterol and component particles in your blood to assess cardiovascular risks.
- Total Cholesterol: Measures the total amount of cholesterol types combined. Desirable is less than 200 mg/dL.
- LDL Cholesterol: LDL or "bad" cholesterol builds up on artery walls. Optimal is less than 100 mg/dL.
- HDL Cholesterol: HDL or "good" cholesterol carries cholesterol to the liver for elimination. Higher levels (>60 mg/dL) are better.
- Triglycerides: Measures circulating blood fats. Below 150 mg/dL is optimal.
- Non-HDL Cholesterol: Total cholesterol minus HDL. Indicates LDL particles and very low-density lipoproteins. Goal is less than 130 mg/dL.
- Cholesterol Ratios: Compares levels of HDL, LDL and total cholesterol. Assesses heart disease risks.
Doctors may order cholesterol testing every 4–6 years for healthy adults or more frequently for those at higher risk.
When Your Cholesterol is High?
Your doctor will help interpret your cholesterol test results and determine next steps. In general:
- 200-239 mg/dL - Borderline high. Lifestyle changes recommended.
- 240 mg/dL and above - High cholesterol. Medication or intensive lifestyle changes needed.
High cholesterol requires treatment through medications like statins or bile acid sequestrants. But diet and exercise should be the first line of defence.
10 Effective Ways to Lower Cholesterol Naturally
Making heart-healthy lifestyle and dietary changes can help optimize cholesterol levels and reduce cardiovascular risks. Natural ways to lower cholesterol include:
- Increase Fibre Intake: Soluble fibre binds to cholesterol particles and removes them from the body. Load up on foods like oats, beans, apples, pears and prunes.
- Add Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Fatty fish, walnuts, chia and flax seeds contain omega-3s that improve cholesterol ratios. Aim for 2–3 servings per week.
- Limit Saturated and Trans Fats: These unhealthy fats raise LDL levels. Reduce intake of red meat, butter, cheese, baked goods and fried foods.
- Lose Extra Weight: Excess weight strains the cardiovascular system. Losing just 5-10% of body weight can significantly improve cholesterol.
- Exercise Regularly: Brisk walking for 30 minutes daily raises beneficial HDL cholesterol through increased physical activity.
- Quit Smoking and Lower Alcohol: Smoking lowers HDL while heavy alcohol consumption increases harmful triglycerides - both negatively impact cholesterol.
- Manage Stress: Chronic stress contributes to high cholesterol. Relaxation techniques like meditation, yoga and deep breathing help lower it.
- Use Olive Oil: The monounsaturated fats in olive oil can help reduce LDL and raise HDL levels when used instead of saturated fats.
- Add Whey Protein: Whey protein, especially when combined with exercise, may improve cholesterol levels by lowering LDL and triglycerides.
- Consider Supplements: Supplements like fish oil, psyllium, garlic and plant sterols may help lower LDL and increase HDL when used with diet and lifestyle changes.
FAQs About Cholesterol Testing and Management
Body cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that is produced in the liver and found throughout the body's cells.
Why should I get tested for cholesterol?
Testing determines your individual cholesterol levels and risk factors for heart disease. It establishes a baseline and guides treatment decisions.
How often should I get cholesterol testing?
Generally every 4–6 years for healthy adults. More frequent testing may be needed if you have high cholesterol or additional risk factors.
What are healthy cholesterol levels?
Total cholesterol under 200 mg/dL, LDL under 100 mg/dL, HDL over 60 mg/dL, and triglycerides under 150 mg/dL are optimal.
What raises cholesterol levels?
Diet high in saturated and trans fats, smoking, obesity, inactivity, diabetes, genetics, hormone changes, and certain medications.
Are there symptoms or warning signs of high cholesterol?
There are typically no obvious symptoms. This makes regular screening important to detect elevated silent cholesterol before complications occur.
Tips for Accurate Cholesterol Test Results
To ensure accurate cholesterol testing:
- Fast for 9–12 hours before the test to avoid dietary lipids affecting results. Water is okay.
- Have blood drawn in the morning as cholesterol fluctuates during the day.
- Avoid alcohol for 48 hours which can falsely lower results.
- Wait 3 weeks if you’ve had a heart attack or stroke to allow levels to stabilize.
- Inform your doctor of medications like steroids that may impact cholesterol.
- Repeat test within 1–2 weeks if results are abnormal to confirm.
Preparing properly allows the test to reflect your average cholesterol levels so your doctor can assess your CVD risks and treatment needs accurately.
Key Takeaways on Cholesterol Testing and Control
- Cholesterol lab tests measure total, LDL, HDL, triglycerides and ratios to assess heart risks.
- High cholesterol is a major controllable risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
- Diet, exercise, stress management and supplements help optimize cholesterol levels.
- Losing weight, increasing fibre, and limiting saturated fats can effectively lower cholesterol.
- Fasting, timing, medication review and consistent testing ensure accurate results.
- Work with your doctor to understand your cholesterol numbers and keep levels in a healthy range.
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