The Biomarker Handbook is a curated series that seeks to provide readers with insights on each biomarker we cover in our blood test packages and its relation to our body.
What is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a waxy substance that is used by your body to build cells. It also plays an important role in brain health and memory formation. However, too much of it will pose a problem to your health. There are two main sources from which cholesterol comes from. The first is your liver which can make all the cholesterol you need and the second comes from animal foods.
Types of Cholesterol
1. LDL (Low-Density Lipoprotein)
Otherwise known as bad cholesterol, LDL actually makes up most of your body’s cholesterol. In time, this can lead to a thick, hard deposit on the walls of the arteries, which make them less flexible. This condition is known as atherosclerosis. If a clot forms and blocks a narrowed artery, a heart attack or stroke can result.
2. HDL (High-Density Lipoprotein)
Otherwise known as the good cholesterol, HDL absorbs cholesterol and helps to transport it back to the liver. The liver then removes this excess cholesterol from your body. Having high levels of HDL can help to lower one’s risk for heart disease and stroke.
High cholesterol is one of the major risk factors that one can control for coronary heart disease, heart attack and stroke. This risk increases even more if you have other risk factors such as smoking, high blood pressure or diabetes.
Checking Your Cholesterol Levels
Health checks form the frontier to preventive health especially when chronic illnesses often lack symptoms until they become life-threatening. In this case, cholesterol testing would allow you to mitigate risks and prevent diseases before it is too late. To test your blood cholesterol levels, non fasted blood samples are considered. This means that components measured include total and HDL cholesterol. Your doctor will also consider other risk factors and not just your cholesterol level when determining your level of heart disease. These risk factors are, for example, age, sex, family history and smoking etc.
How often should I check?
All adults aged 20 and above should have their cholesterol and other risk factors checked every 4 to 6 years, according to the American Heart Association. After which, individuals can personalise their testing frequencies with their health care provider.
What to do about high cholesterol?
This can be improved by changing one’s lifestyle. It is applicable even if such a condition is due to genetics or family history. Lifestyle changes include:
- Eating a heart-healthy diet
- Exercising regularly
- Avoiding tobacco smoke
- Losing weight (if you’re overweight or obese)
1. Eating a heart-healthy diet
A heart-healthy diet is one that is low in saturated and trans fat. To reduce these levels, limit your intake of red meat and dairy product that are made with whole milk. This means you should choose skim milk, low fat or fat-free dairy products. You should also limit the amount of fried food you eat. Eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, poultry and fish will also help reduce fat. Interestingly, high fibre actually reduces cholesterol levels by as much as 10 percent.
For inspiration, look at DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) eating plan promoted by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and diets suggested by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the American Heart Association. You can easily adapt this pattern based on your cultural and food preferences.
2. Exercising regularly
Having a sedentary lifestyle lowers one’s HDL cholesterol, which in turn means it’s harder to remove bad LDL cholesterol from your arteries. To be more physically active just try doing 40 minutes of aerobic exercise 3 to 4 times a week. Examples include walking, swimming or cycling.
3. Stopping smoking
Quitting smoking helps improve good HDL cholesterol which helps in the reduction of LDL or ‘bad’ cholesterol. Moreover, this is very important as smoking actually compounds the risk from other risk factors. This includes heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. The choice to quit smoking is the first step – and there are always advice and resources to provide you with that additional boost when it gets challenging.
4. Losing weight
Being overweight or obese tends to raise LDL cholesterol and lowers HDL cholesterol. As such, losing excess weight can improve cholesterol levels. Even, a weight loss of 10 percent can go a long way toward lowering your risk or reversing it. Learn more about losing weight.
If you’re concerned about maintaining your cholesterol levels during the festive season, take a look at our lifestyle article here!
Interested in other biomarkers, check out the rest of The Biomarker Handbook.
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