Cholesterol - its effects and treatments
Cholesterol, a lipid compound with a waxy texture, plays a vital role in the synthesis of various hormones and cell membranes within the body. Our body produces all the cholesterol it needs in the liver. There are three main types of cholesterol:
High-density lipoproteins (HDL)
Low-density lipoproteins (LDL)
Very low-density lipoproteins (VLDL)
LDL is also known as 'bad cholesterol' because it contributes to the formation of plaque in the arteries of the heart, which can lead to ischemic heart disease. HDL, sometimes referred to as the "good cholesterol," carries LDL and VLDL to the liver, where they are broken down.
While excess LDL cholesterol can be hazardous, LDL cholesterol itself is not inherently dangerous. High cholesterol levels can damage the arteries, worsen heart disease, and increase the risk of stroke. Excessive cholesterol can lead to the formation of fatty deposits in the arteries, which gradually narrow the passage for blood flow. In some cases, these deposits can suddenly rupture and cause a clot, resulting in a heart attack or stroke. While high cholesterol can be inherited, it is often triggered by poor lifestyle choices, making it preventable and curable.
The Effects of High Cholesterol on the Body
Cardiovascular and circulatory systems
The arteries become clogged and less flexible when there is an excessive buildup of LDL cholesterol in the body. Atherosclerosis is the medical term for artery hardening. As a result, the heart has to work harder to pump blood through stiff arteries, leading to decreased blood flow. Arterial plaque development may eventually cause heart problems. The buildup of coronary artery plaque may make it more difficult for the heart muscle to receive oxygen-rich blood, resulting in angina, a type of chest pain. If the artery continues to shrink, it may completely obstruct blood flow to the heart, causing a heart attack. Moreover, a plaque fragment may disrupt and form a clot, which could result in a stroke if it affects the brain or the arteries leading to the brain.
The glands in our bodies that produce hormones, such as estrogen, testosterone, and cortisol, require cholesterol for their production. Hormones can also impact the amount of cholesterol in the body. When a woman menstruates, her estrogen levels rise along with her HDL cholesterol levels, while her LDL cholesterol levels drop. This could be one factor contributing to a woman's increased risk of heart disease during menopause when estrogen levels decrease.
Cholesterol is essential for brain health. Approximately 25% of the body's total cholesterol is located in the brain. For the brain to function optimally, cholesterol must be present. However, excessive levels of cholesterol can be hazardous. A stroke occurs when blood flow is blocked due to an accumulation of cholesterol clogging the arteries. Strokes can damage specific areas of the brain and result in symptoms such as memory loss, reduced movement, difficulty speaking and swallowing, among others.
High blood cholesterol levels have also been linked to memory and mental function loss on their own. High blood cholesterol levels can accelerate the development of beta-amyloid plaques, which are clumps of protein that harm the brains of individuals with Alzheimer's disease.
Bile, a chemical that helps in food digestion and nutrient absorption in the intestines, is produced in the digestive tract and needs cholesterol to function. But if there is too much cholesterol in the bile, it crystallizes and eventually hardens into stones in the gallbladder.
Medical condition due to high Cholesterol
Depending on which blood arteries are blocked in the body, high cholesterol increases the chances of developing various medical disorders.
CAD, or coronary artery disease
Coronary artery disease (CAD), also known as ischemic heart disease or coronary heart disease (CHD), is the primary cause of mortality and the most prevalent kind of heart disease. CAD is caused by the onset of atherosclerosis in the coronary arteries, which are responsible for supplying blood to the heart. When the heart does not receive sufficient blood, it deteriorates and ceases to function properly, leading to the possibility of a heart attack or heart failure.
Carotid artery disease
Carotid artery disease refers to the condition where atherosclerosis affects the carotid arteries. These arteries supply blood to the vast frontal portion of our brains. When plaque builds up and constricts these arteries, the brain does not receive sufficient oxygen-rich blood.
Peripheral artery disease (PAD)
Peripheral artery disease (PAD) refers to atherosclerosis that affects the arteries in the arms or legs. It can lead to major issues in the feet, legs, and other parts of the body, as our cardiovascular system connects all the blood vessels. Therefore, when plaque accumulates in one location, it slows down the entire network of blood vessels, similar to a slowdown in a pipe network.
Elevated blood pressure
High cholesterol is associated with hypertension, also known as high blood pressure. The accumulation of calcium and cholesterol plaque in the arteries causes them to become stiff and constrictive. Consequently, the heart has to exert more effort to pump blood through these narrowed arteries, leading to a significant rise in blood pressure.
Diagnosis of High Cholesterol
To minimize the impact of the disease on your daily life, early detection is crucial. The commonly used test to measure cholesterol levels is a blood test, which provides information about:
- Total cholesterol
- LDL cholesterol
- HDL cholesterol
- Triglycerides - a different type of blood fat that can potentially increase the risk of heart disease.
How to Reduce Cholesterol?
Some people just require minor lifestyle adjustments, such as consuming fewer saturated fats or follow an appropriate Cholesterol diet, while others require both medicine and lifestyle adjustments. People who have health issues that impact their cholesterol may require a more advanced strategy. You can develop a strategy for decreasing cholesterol levels by speaking with your doctor at Hinduja Hospital.
- Avoiding saturated and trans fats, which may be found in many food sources including fatty meats and packaged goods, is the best dietary approach to lowering cholesterol.
- Regular exercise can reduce blood pressure and total cholesterol.
- Smoking cessation can improve LDL and HDL cholesterol levels.
- Even a small weight loss of 5–10% of body weight can lower cholesterol levels.
To treat a cholesterol problem, the doctor may also recommend medicine in addition to a change in lifestyle, which may include:
- Statins, which reduce levels of LDL (bad cholesterol).
- Statins may be administered in conjunction with bile acid sequestrants to help reduce LDL cholesterol levels.
- Nicotinic acid works to reduce levels of bad cholesterol (LDL) and triglycerides while also raising levels of good cholesterol (HDL).
- Fibrates can lower triglyceride levels and may also raise HDL values.
- Ezetimibe can aid in lowering LDL cholesterol and preventing cholesterol absorption.
High Cholesterol Prevention and Care at Hinduja Hospital
At Hinduja Hospital, our skilled cardiology and endocrinology teams can help you discover and treat any cholesterol condition. Our specialists will ensure that you receive the support and assistance you need to navigate through this challenging period, from prompt Cholesterol tests to appropriate Cholesterol treatment in Mumbai. Schedule a consultation with one of the specialists at Hinduja Hospital as soon as you suspect you may have a cholesterol condition.
Q1. How can I lessen the negative effects of high cholesterol?
Ans. To lower your cholesterol, try to consume less fatty food, especially foods that contain saturated fat. Unsaturated fats are a more beneficial type of fat that can still be found in some meals.
Q2. How long does it take to naturally reduce cholesterol?
Ans. It may take 3 to 6 months for lifestyle changes to significantly lower cholesterol levels. However, by following a strict treatment plan, it is possible to observe results without medication in just 4 to 5 weeks.
Q3. Can reducing my cholesterol lower my risk for heart disease?
Ans. Lowering LDL and total cholesterol levels can reduce the risk of heart disease. However, it's important to note that having a higher HDL value is preferable.