Cholesterol: Vital Lipid or Deadly Disease?


The generation that we refer to as the ‘millennials’ – those born roughly after 1980, have been plagued by a new and seemingly unrelenting enemy – Cholesterol!

An improved standard of living and changing dietary preferences have meant that since the turn of the last century, we have suddenly had to confront the dangers of raised cholesterol. An otherwise vital fatty substance known as lipid required for the proper functioning of the body has now become a source of dread and anxiety. Having to listen to the feared “You have raised cholesterol!” from a medical practitioner is the grim tragedy of our times. But what exactly is cholesterol after all ... read on!

Cholesterol is a lipid that is mainly produced in the liver and although almost all of the body needs for cholesterol are fulfilled by the liver, cholesterol can also be found in certain foods. Once produced, cholesterol is carried into the bloodstream by proteins, the combination forming lipoproteins.


Lipoproteins are of 2 types:

HDL or High-Density Lipoproteins are those that carry cholesterol away from the cells and back to the liver to be broken down and excreted from the body as waste. This is why higher levels of HDL are beneficial and it is also referred to as ‘good cholesterol’. LDL or Low-Density Lipoproteins are often referred to as ‘bad cholesterol’ and while they do perform the vital function of carrying cholesterol to the cells from the liver, a large build-up of the same results in accumulation around arterial walls and can cause many diseases.

A blood test designed to test HDL and LDL can measure the amount to cholesterol in the blood. Like most vital ingredients that the body needs, an excessive amount of lipid in the blood can often result in arterial blockages and other associated diseases. This is called Hyperlipidaemia.

One of the popular myths about cholesterol is that high or raised cholesterol levels are a disease unto themselves. This is not true. Raised or increased levels of cholesterol by itself, does not result in any bodily harm. However, it can almost certainly trigger a host of other diseases that can cause significant damage.

Modern medical science tells us that taking into account modern lifestyle choices; one must gradually work towards reducing one’s cholesterol levels as one grows older.

High levels of cholesterol are the most significant cause of atherosclerosis – a condition that results in the accumulation of fatty deposits on the inner lining of arteries. This is why cholesterol is one of the leading causes of ischaemic hearts attacks and strokes (also known as a transient or minor stroke). Since cholesterol thickens arterial walls, it restricts blood flow and increases the chances of a blood clot developing in the body. If not diagnosed early, this can even lead to death.


Most common causes of high cholesterol:

Raised levels of cholesterol as a societal problem seems to coincide with what can be broadly categorized as ‘first world problems’ – higher standards of living, changing dietary preferences, unhealthy lifestyle etc. In almost all the cases, raised levels of cholesterol go hand-in-hand with obesity and a bad lifestyle with very little physical exercise. Consuming excess amounts of alcohol and in certain cases, a family history of cholesterol can also lead to the same. Smoking can also significantly increase the risk of cholesterol.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), High cholesterol is estimated to cause 18% of global cerebrovascular disease (mostly nonfatal events) and 56% of global ischaemic heart disease. Overall this amounts to about 4.4 million deaths. Curiously, the issue seems more prevalent among females than males.

How to lower cholesterol levels?

The most important step one must take in lowering cholesterol levels is to opt for a healthier lifestyle with a lot of physical exercise. There should be strict control on smoking and alcoholism and one must be vigilant in terms of what food one eats.


Foods that help lower cholesterol:

Whole grains

Fatty fish

Fruits Vegetables

Flax seeds

Olive oil

Canola oil

Legumes

Nuts

Dark chocolate

Garlic

Soya foods

In addition, one must also undergo regular checks to ensure that cholesterol levels are within limits, particularly as one grows older.


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