One of the reasons why one in six American adults (approx. 16.3% of the total population) have high cholesterol could be that not many are aware of what the high cholesterol causes are. It could also be that they do not know what these ‘high’ levels are, how to reduce these levels and so on.
This article aims to enlighten you on the reasons why this indispensable blood constituent increases and what you can do about it.
What is cholesterol?
It is a waxy substance that is present in every cell of the body. It is produced in the liver. While the body produces enough cholesterol, one can also add extra amounts by way of foods. This is one of the main high cholesterol causes.
Measured in milligrams (mg) per deciliter (dL) of blood, cholesterol is transported through the blood with the help of lipoproteins. The two types are low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and high-density lipoproteins (HDL). It is important to have healthy levels of both in the body.
While HDL (also called the good cholesterol) carries cholesterol from different parts of the body to the liver from where it gets out, LDL (also called the bad cholesterol) carries cholesterol from the liver to the cells. An average human body contains 70% LDL. High cholesterol causes an increase in the risk of developing heart ailments (especially high LDL) – hence the name bad cholesterol.
Triglycerides are essentially a type of fat, present in the blood plasma as well as certain kinds of foods. Unused calories from several foods are converted into triglycerides and stored in fat cells of the body. Factors that can raise triglyceride levels include obesity, sedentary lifestyle, smoking, alcohol, high carbohydrate diet, some ailments and medicines, genetic disorders.
Very-low-density lipoprotein (VLDL) is a type of lipoprotein that contains the most triglycerides. VLDL cholesterol in the blood can raise LDL levels causing your blood vessels to narrow.
What is high cholesterol?
As the name suggests, when there are excess amounts of cholesterol in the body, the condition is called ‘high total cholesterol (combination of HDL and LDL)’- and the level defined is 240 mg/dL and above. People who have such high total cholesterol levels run twice the risk of developing heart diseases. Incidentally, for the average American adult, the level is about 200 mg/dL, which is a borderline high risk. The most desirable level is lower than 200 mg/dL.
Watch out for rising LDL and triglyceride levels
High cholesterol causes also include having high LDL levels as well as high triglycerides. However, high levels of HDL can lower the chances of developing heart ailments.
So, what are the ideal levels one should aim for?
Total cholesterol levels (total cholesterol in blood including LDL and HDL) = below 200 mg/dL
HDL = below 70 mg/dL
LDL = below 40 mg/dL for men and below 50 mg/dL for women.
Triglycerides = below 150 mg/dL.
What exactly happens when these levels are high?
High cholesterol causes hardening of artery walls. Plaques form inside these important conduits that take blood and oxygen to the heart. This narrows the passage causing disruption and restriction of blood flow leading to a heart condition called atherosclerosis.
With time, the plaques (made of cholesterol, calcium, fat and other substances) may rupture resulting in the formation of blood clots. When the clots are big, they can completely block a heart artery. The result is a heart attack.