What is Cholesterol? Cholesterol is a fat like substance essential to human health. It is an integral part of cell membranes and is used in the production of vitamin D, various hormones and bile acids in our body. Cholesterol is made in our liver and is also present in foods derived from poultry, like meat.
Ok, now that I know what cholesterol is, what is LDL and HDL? LDL or Low Density Lipoprotien and HDL or High Density Lipoprotien are essentially transport vehicles for cholesterol. LDL transports cholesterol to tissues and arteries where the cholesterol can create blockages and hence is bad. On the other hand, HDL transports the cholesterol back to the liver from tissues and prevents deposition in the arteries and hence is good.
So, if the amount of LDL is high and cholesterol gets deposited in your arteries, it is bad for you as it could make the arteries narrower. The effect of the narrowing depends on which artery is affected. The different complications that could take place as a result are: Angina, heart attacks, heart failure, stroke or kidney diseases. The narrowing of arteries in the lower limbs could also lead to ulcers in the foot.
When should I get my cholesterol checked? Due to increasing changes in our lifestyles and the junk-food culture, the incidences of heart attacks among younger generations have gone up. Therefore, it is recommended that you get your first cholesterol check done at 20 years of age, and then follow it up with cholesterol checks every five years. People who have raised levels of cholesterol and those who already suffer from conditions like hypertension, diabetes or have a family history of heart disease, and smokers should repeat it more frequently.
What a cholesterol test involves: The level of cholesterol is determined by a blood test done after 12 hours of fasting.
How can I keep my cholesterol levels in check? A combination of a healthy diet and lifestyle will keep cholesterol levels in check. This includes reducing your intake of saturated fats by reducing the butter, cheese, coconut oil, cream, egg yolks, poultry skin, red meat and whole milk in your diet.
MUFA (Mono unsaturated fatty acid) and PUFA (Polyunsaturated fatty acid) are heart healthy fats and their intake should be increased for better cholesterol levels. Almonds, canola oil, cashews, hazelnuts, olive oil , peanut butter, peanut oil, sunflower oil, avocados, soya bean and soya bean oil, walnuts, corn oil, tuna, pumpkin seeds etc. are good sources of MUFA and PUFA. Poultry without skin and fish are low in cholesterol. Cereals, fresh fruit, and vegetables contain no cholesterol.
Alterations in the diet should be combined with regular exercises like brisk walking, brisk cycling, running, and swimming to help keep cholesterol levels low. Medication for cholesterol is recommended only to those who are at a high risk of heart disease and who have been unable to control their cholesterol with diet and exercise.