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Demystifying Cholesterol – The Nitty Gritty

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is an important ingredient of our cell membrane and a few hormones in our body. Our body produces the cholesterol we need and we also get a good dose of cholesterol from our food. At normal levels cholesterol is not harmful. It is when our body starts accumulating the bad cholesterol that trouble starts.

LDL the Bad cholesterol

LDL or low density lipoprotein is much to blame for the bad rap that cholesterol has gotten in the media. Higher the LDL, higher the risk of heart disease. This is because LDL clogs the artery by sticking to the arterial walls making it difficult for smooth blood flow.

Gradually, as the deposition of LDL increases the diameter of the blood vessel decreases, leading to blockage in the artery. Even worse, the hardened LDL now called plaque can break off and run free in the blood stream setting you up for an embolism in almost any part of the circulatory system.When blockage occurs, the oxygen to the brain is reduced and this can lead to stroke.

LDL levels should ideally be lower than 100 and levels above 150 are considered to be very high.

HDL the Good cholesterol

HDL or high density lipoprotein is the good cholesterol acting as the good cop who rounds up the misfits which in this case is the LDL. HDL rounds up the sneaky LDLs clinging to the artery walls and brings them back to the liver which acts as the rehabilitation centre.

Unfortunately, HDL is produced in the body only when you exercise. It is also possible to increase HDL through some foods but that is very minimal compared to the HDL that increases through exercise.

HDL levels below 40 greatly increases the risk of heart disease.

The good news is that exercise can greatly increase HDL levels. If you have never exercised before and don’t know where to start, start out with simple activities like walking and work your way up to more intense activities.

Triglycerides

The excess fats, sugar, alcohol and calories are stored in the body as triglycerides. High levels of triglycerides are also bad for the health of the heart.

The normal level for triglycerides is 150 and below.

Saturated fat

Saturated fat is broken down into cholesterol in the liver. That is why even if you eat food that says cholesterol free on the label, but it is steeped in saturated fat, your body is going to break down all that saturated fat into cholesterol.

Watching the label is crucial if you want to lower your cholesterol level. You want to aim for less than 20 g of saturated fat in your daily diet if you have normal levels of cholesterol.

How can you know your cholesterol level?

There are two tests to measure your cholesterol level.

1) Lipid Panel test

Your doctor can order a lipid panel test which will show you the individual levels of LDL, HDL and triglycerides. This will give you a better picture of which component of the cholesterol is the real culprit.

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2) Total Cholesterol test

The total cholesterol test measures the total level of LDL, HDL and triglycerides in the blood. This test is good as a follow up test to monitor your cholesterol level after you start diet and exercise.

The normal level is considered to be 200 and below and above 300 is high risk.

If your body metabolizes cholesterol normally and you are careful about what you eat, then cholesterol will not haunt you. On the other hand, if you have high cholesterol, there is no reason to panic. You can lower cholesterol through diet and exercise. Your doctor will also prescribe medication to help you control your cholesterol level if you are unable to lower your cholesterol through diet and exercise alone.

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