Keeping high cholesterol levels in check
Cholesterol – more than likely, you’ve heard of this little chemical compound at some point in your life. When we live in a world where high calorie, high sugar, high fat and, yes, high cholesterol fast food is available on practically every corner, it’s near impossible to not be reminded of its prominence in today’s marketplace. Despite hearing about cholesterol so frequently, however, many of us choose not to let the prominence of cholesterol in certain foods, or the daunting effects that frequent intake of high cholesterol can have on the body, affect how we live our lives.
However, in order to see the threat that high cholesterol can have not just on a vascular lifestyle, but also on the body in general, one first has to understand what cholesterol is.
What is Cholesterol?
First – it’s important to know that every cell in your body has cholesterol. This waxy, fat-like substance helps service many functions in the human body that are essential to living – it makes hormones, vitamin D and even helps to digest food. Cholesterol is carried all over the body by lipoproteins, or small packages with fat on the inside and proteins on the outside. Lipoproteins are classified as both low density (LDL) and high density (HDL). LDL cholesterol is typically seen as “bad cholesterol,” as it can lead to a buildup in your arteries. LDL cholesterol also carries blood from your heart all over the body, spreading its damaging effects. HDL cholesterol, on the other hand, is usually seen as “good cholesterol,” as it takes cholesterol from other parts of the body to the liver, where it is removed.
When LDL cholesterol builds up in the arteries, it can lead to a condition known as high blood cholesterol. Though the condition typically displays no symptoms or early precursors, one of the biggest means of preventing high blood cholesterol is to simply avoiding foods that contribute to arterial plaque buildup. The greater your chance of developing high blood cholesterol is ultimately determined by how high the level of LDL cholesterol is in the blood.
When analyzing the level of cholesterol in the blood, it’s also important to understand there are three types of cholesterol to keep track of: LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol and total cholesterol level. It is recommended that blood in the body has 60 mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter) of HDL cholesterol or higher, less than 100 mg/dL of LDL cholesterol, and less than 200 mg/dL of total cholesterol. Patients within all of these ranges are least likely to develop conditions affected by high cholesterol. However, people are at the highest risk of developing these conditions if their LDL cholesterol level escalates to 190 mg/dL or higher, HDL lowers to less than 40 mg/dL or total cholesterol reaches 240 mg/dL.
Peripheral Vascular Disease
For vascular health, there are a few different conditions in which high cholesterol is a contributing factor. For example, the effects of peripheral vascular disease, or the decrease of blood flow due to the veins narrowing, are more damaging when the condition is brought on by atherosclerosis, where the arteries are hardened due to plaque buildup. Basically, this pair of conditions affects both the veins and arteries, it limits the amount of blood flow going through the body. Through this combination, organic peripheral vascular disease can be brought on as a result of high cholesterol, as the structure of the blood vessels change as a result.
Symptoms of peripheral vascular disease are noticeable, and typically involve pain in the legs, arms, feet and toes. If you find yourself experiencing any symptoms of peripheral vascular disease, tell your doctor immediately, as any delay in diagnosis or treatment can cause complications down the road.
Keeping cholesterol in check is also an important step in preventing strokes. High cholesterol can directly attribute to the development of carotid artery disease, or buildup of plaque in the carotid arteries, which lead directly to the brain. When plaque caused by high blood cholesterol builds up in these arteries, blood flow is reduced to the brain, where brain cells begin to die off, impairing other parts of the body affected by the brain. If nothing is done to treat the blockage, effects such as long-term disability of vision, speech, and movement, or even death, are possible.
Renal Artery Stenosis
The renals can also be affected by plaque buildup caused by high levels of cholesterol. Branching off of the aorta, the renals help provide a vascular connection to the kidneys, supplying them with oxygenated blood, which allows them to perform vital functions like filtering the blood, regulating the balance of electrolytes and controlling the body’s fluid balance. However, when the renals become blocked with plaque, brought on by high cholesterol levels, they aren’t able to perform these functions, causing a condition known as renal artery stenosis.
Knowing how cholesterol can have an effect on vascular health is only half the battle, however. It is important to make real, permanent changes to diet and exercise intake in order to fend off the advancement of vascular disease. For diet, limiting or, at the very least, making changes to what you order at fast food restaurants can have a tremendous impact on the body’s cholesterol levels. To read more about simple changes one can make to their fast food order, click here.
Furthermore, aerobic and resistance workouts are recommended for fending off the development of high cholesterol, and engaging in both brings greater benefits for weight and fat loss. Utilizing both of these types of exercise daily brings the best results – just 30 minutes a day of moderate exercise, or 15 minutes a day of vigorous exercise can make all the difference.
Remember: Keeping cholesterol in its place by making a few simple adjustments can improve your overall health. Do it, and you’ll thank yourself someday for taking those steps.