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.
As society has progressed, people have become increasingly conscious of their health and what they put into their bodies. Now, it is has become commonplace for people to want to live and look healthier. A good example would be how people have become more cholesterol conscious.
So what exactly is cholesterol? Cholesterol in layman’s terms refers to a waxy substance that is produced by the human liver, and also present in certain foods. Cholesterol plays a vital role in the generation of hormones, vitamin D, as well as the digestion of food.
However, cholesterol cannot be directly absorbed into the bloodstream. Thus, cholesterol attaches itself to lipoproteins, which then act as their mode of transportation through the blood.
Cholesterol comes in two forms, these include:
- High-Density Lipoproteins (HDL)
- Low-Density Lipoproteins (LDL).
HDL is commonly referred to as ‘good’ cholesterol, that the body needs, while LDL is referred to as ‘bad’ cholesterol, that should be avoided.
LOW-DENSITY LIPOPROTEINS (LDL)
Levels of low-density lipoproteins (LDL) act as a biomarker that determines the possibility of developing heart disease in the future. Numerous studies have shown that individuals with high levels of LDL tend to be at a greater risk of developing cardiovascular complications. Findings from the European Society of Cardiology have also proven that a reduction in LDL levels has a high chance of preventing cardiovascular complications.
Signs and Symptoms of High Levels of Low-Density Lipoproteins
There are no particular signs and symptoms that will show, should you have abnormal levels of LDL. This is particularly the case in the early stages. By the time complications develop in the late stages (heart attack, stroke, etc.), it may be too late. This is exactly why LDL levels should be very regularly monitored, and if elevated then every effort should be made in reverting this, to reduce your risk to develop heart disease. The good news is: you can easily track this LDL, and it can be reversed back to normal through lifestyle and mediation efforts.
Consequences of Having High Levels of Low-Density Lipoproteins (LDL)
The normal range of cholesterol level is 240 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) and is measured using a blood test. Having cholesterol levels above this is deemed too high and can lead to atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis occurs when the body’s cholesterol levels are abnormally high, which results to the deposition of excess cholesterol, also known as plaque, on the arterial walls. The plaque formed can narrow the blood vessels and constricts the blood flow. This constriction of blood flow raises the blood pressure in the blood vessels, thus increasing an individual’s chances of developing chest pains and suffering from heart attacks or strokes.
Managing Levels of Low-Density Lipoproteins (LDL)
Although there are numerous medications available to lower LDL levels and increase HDL levels, there are also alternative methods, which are effective and affordable, with no side effects.
- Quit Smoking
Did you know that smoking affects your cholesterol levels? Smoking lowers HDL levels while increasing LDL levels. Thus increasing your chances of developing cardiovascular complications.
- Dietary changes
Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are generally found in plants and are touted as healthy fats, unlike trans fats, saturated fats, and cholesterol. Organizations such as the American Heart Association (AHA) encourage people to switch to foods based on monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats from those that contain saturated and trans fats, which are generally processed fats or come from animal-based fat sources such as butter or meat products. Food often contains a combination of different types of fats.
For individuals who desire to lead healthier and more fulfilled lives, why not consider following a regular work out schedule? Physical exercise helps to raise HDL levels while also lowering LDL levels.
Apart from cholesterol, there are different fatty substances in our blood, such as triglycerides. Triglycerides are a type of lipid, or fat, found in the blood. They are produced by the liver and can be found in a number of foods. The body generally converts excessive calories to triglycerides, which are then released in between meals as energy. High level of triglycerides is linked to increased risk of heart disease and stroke.
Measurement of Triglycerides
Tracking your levels of triglycerides can be carried out through a simple blood test. Depending on the individual, triglycerides levels should be less than 150 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL). Readings ranging from 150 to 199 mg/dL are considered borderline high. Readings higher than 200mg/dL are dangerous and should be checked by a healthcare professional immediately. Additionally, triglycerides tests are usually carried out alongside cholesterol tests as the two correlate.
Signs and Symptoms of Abnormal Triglycerides levels
In most instances, having abnormal triglyceride levels won’t necessarily reflect on your body, but will instead reflect in underlying causes. For instance, low triglycerides due to malnutrition may cause symptoms like dry skin, brittle hair, diarrhea and weight loss. Additionally, low triglycerides levels caused by malabsorption can be associated with reduced growth, weight loss, and muscle wasting.
On the other hand, high triglyceride levels caused by hyperthyroidism can be associated with a rapid heart rate, weight loss, sweating, and fatigue.
Management of Triglycerides Levels
It is important to note that the diet you consume determines your triglyceride levels. Consuming foods high in calories will lead to high triglyceride levels. However, this also means that you are able to control your triglyceride levels by incorporating nutrient-dense foods into your diet and reducing your intake of fatty, processed foods. Examples of such foods are:
- Cold-water fish:
Cold-water fish, such as salmon and mackerel, are rich in omega- 3- fatty acids and can help to balance high triglycerides levels.
- Whole grains:
Whole grain foods such as bread, pasta, cereals, and brown rice are rich in complex carbohydrates and fiber. They also provide protein and help balance cholesterol and triglyceride levels while keeping you full.
Studies have found that consuming nuts reduce cardiovascular risk. One study involved 583 men and women from all walks of life, with normal and high cholesterol. They conducted tests that found that individuals who consumed an average of 67 grams of nuts a day decreased their triglycerides by 10%.
- Soy protein:
A study done in Canada examined the effects of soy protein on the triglyceride levels of people over 50. The study found that participants who ate a diet consisting of 25 grams of soy protein for every 1,000 calories consumed, had their triglyceride levels lowered by 12 percent, as compared to animal protein.
Although both triglycerides and cholesterol are forms of lipids found in the blood, they are vastly different in many ways. Cholesterol is used as a building block for cells and certain hormones while triglycerides act as storage for unused calories. Additionally, they both supplement the body with enough energy throughout the day.
There is no specific period that one should visit a doctor to determine your level of triglycerides and low-density lipoproteins. However, each time you visit your doctor make sure they carry out blood tests to track your levels of high-density lipoproteins, low-density lipoproteins, and triglycerides. Understanding your levels will help you be able to reduce the chances of developing cardiovascular complications and will ensure your health stays in tip-top condition.
If you’re interested in learning more about what affects your heart and how to care for it, take a look at our lifestyle article here!
Interested in other biomarkers, check out the rest of The Biomarker Handbook.
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