What Is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that’s found in all cells of the body.
Your body needs some cholesterol to make hormones, vitamin D, and substances that help you digest foods. Your body makes all the cholesterol it needs. However, cholesterol also is found in some of the foods you eat. Cholesterol travels through your bloodstream in small packages called lipoproteins (lip-o-PRO-teens). These packages are made of fat (lipid) on the inside and proteins on the outside.
Cholesterol is oil-based and so does not mix with the blood, which is water-based. It is therefore carried around the body in the blood by lipoproteins.
Types of lipoprotein are:
High-density lipoprotein (HDL) – carries cholesterol away from the cells and back to the liver, where it's either broken down or passed out of the body as a waste product; for this reason, HDL is referred to as "good cholesterol", and higher levels are better
Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) – carries cholesterol to the cells that need it, but if there's too much cholesterol for the cells to use, it can build up in the artery walls, leading to disease of the arteries; for this reason, LDL is known as "bad cholesterol"
The amount of cholesterol in the blood – both HDL and LDL – can be measured with a blood test.
The recommended cholesterol levels in the blood vary between those with a higher or lower risk of developing arterial disease.
Causes of Cholesterol
High cholesterol can be caused by
- Age. Cholesterol starts to rise after age 20
- Any food that is high in saturated fat or being overweight may help “swtich on" certain genes which increase cholesterol levels.
- Diet and lifestyle can affect the amount of fat in our blood and the way it circulates around the body.
- Eating a diet high in saturated fat
- Family history. If family members have or had high cholesterol, you may also have it
- Having a large waist circumference
- Not active physically
- Sometimes the way we live our life can affect how our genetic makeup is expressed.
- Unhealthy lifestyle.
- Weight: Excess weight may modestly increase your LDL (bad) cholesterol level. Losing weight may lower LDL and raise HDL (good) cholesterol levels. Obese
Some medical conditions and prescribed medicines can affect your cholesterol levels too.
The following are a common cause of unhealthy blood fats (cholesterol):
- Alcohol intake
- Kidney problems
- Liver problems
- Type 2 diabetes
- Underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroid)
Other reasons: Cholesterol levels naturally increase as we get older and following the menopause, women may find their cholesterol levels increase. Symptoms/Signs of Cholesterol
Though High cholesterol has no symptoms, a blood test is the only way to detect high cholesterol. Yet you could experience this:
If the arteries that supply your heart with blood (coronary arteries) are affected, you may have chest pain (angina) and other symptoms of coronary artery disease.
What should my cholesterol levels be?
Blood cholesterol is measured in units called millimoles per litre of blood, often shortened to mmol/L.
As a general guide, total cholesterol levels should be:
5mmol/L or less for healthy adults
4mmol/L or less for those at high risk
As a general guide, LDL levels should be:
3mmol/L or less for healthy adults
2mmol/L or less for those at high risk An ideal level of HDL is above 1mmol/L. A lower level of HDL can increase your risk of heart disease.
Your ratio of total cholesterol to HDL may also be calculated. This is your total cholesterol level divided by your HDL level. Generally, this ratio should be below four, as a higher ratio increases your risk of heart disease.
However, cholesterol is only one risk factor and the level at which specific treatment is required will depend on whether other risk factors, such as smoking and high blood pressure, are also present. How to diagnose Cholesterol
A blood test is the only way to detect high cholesterol.
If you are 20 years old or older, have your cholesterol levels checked at least once every 5 years. Talk with your doctor about how often you should be tested.
How to Prevent Cholesterol
- Add whey protein
- Choose healthier fats. Saturated fats, found primarily in red meat and dairy products, raise your total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, the "bad" cholesterol.
- Eliminate trans fats
- Eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids
- Increase soluble fiber
Treatment for Cholesterol
- Choose healthier fats. Saturated fat and trans fat raise your total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol
- Avoid trans fats
- Limit your dietary cholesterol
- Select whole grains
- Stock up on fruits and vegetables
- Eat heart-healthy fish
- Drink alcohol only in moderation
- Statins (lovaststin, atorvastatin)
- Cholesterol absorption inhibitors (cholestyramine)
- Injectable medications (evolocumab)
- Apples: Apple is rich in pectin and contains natural antioxidants known as flavonoids in their skin that lower cholesterol level and keep your lungs healthy. One medium sized apple contains vitamin A and C, around four grams of fiber and less than 100 calories. So, enjoy this healthy fruit.
- Fruits like pear, oranges, grapefruit, berries, and pomegranate also decrease the cholesterol levels in the blood because of their high fiber content.
- Note – If possible, consume fruits with their skin, as it contains additional fiber.
- Avocados: Even though avocados do not have any dietary cholesterol, they directly affect the cholesterol levels. This creamy fruit is filled with several nutritious qualities and contains significant amount of fiber and good fats such as oleic acid, healthy monounsaturated fat that lowers the unhealthy cholesterol level and boosts up the HDL (good cholesterol). It can be added to a variety of dishes. You can mix it into guacamole, slice it in salad or top a sandwich. Alternatively, make a fine avocado dip.
- Note – Being high in calories and fat (30 grams fat and 300 calories per avocado), avocados should be used moderately.
- Barley: It is the most nutritious cereal that helps lower the blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels and normalize the blood sugar levels. A fiber called beta-glucan, present in barley reduces the cholesterol levels by 4 to 10 percent, depending on its consumption. It is an excellent substitute for wheat. Consume this healthy food in the form of chapattis and noodles.
- Beans: Beans are packed with cholesterol lowering soluble fiber. Hence, they bring down the LDL level and help keep your heart healthy. There are several types of beans, such as kidney, pinto, navy, chickpea, black, or butter beans. Eat, regularly, a cup of your favorite bean for 6 weeks, so as to decrease the cholesterol by 10%.
- Broccoli: Besides possessing anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, broccoli has a variety of nutrients such as calcium, potassium, fiber, magnesium, and vitamin C. The fiber in broccoli combines with the bile acids in the digestive tract and excretes it out from the body. This way, it drops the blood cholesterol level.So, make it a part of your diet by including it in soups and salads.
- Note: Don’t overcook it; otherwise, all its important nutrients will fade away.
- Raw broccoli is less beneficial than steamed one.
- Brown Rice: Brown rice is affluent in lots of minerals, fiber and vitamins. If you want to lower your cholesterol level, then replace white rice with brown rice, as its bran contain highly saturated oil which plays a vital role in balancing the cholesterol levels. One cup of brown rice provides 11 percent fiber.
- Celery: The high antioxidant content of celery lowers the risk of heart disease, as it prevents oxidation of LDL cholesterol. A component present in celery, called butylphthalide, balances the cholesterol level. You can include it in salads, vegetable juice, soups and any other dish. Or else, have a juice made of celery leaves.
- Instead of potato chips, fill your lunch box with celery sticks. Chomping 2 stalks of celery, every day, can lower the LDL by 7 points.
- Chocolate: Chocolate is a powerful antioxidant that maintains the HDL cholesterol levels. The cocoa flavanols and plant sterols found in dark non-milk chocolate can reduce the LDL cholesterol by 2-5%. The flavonoids in chocolates prevent blood platelets from sticking together and keep the arteries unclogged. Eat about an ounce of chocolate in a day to boost up the good cholesterol and prevent the bad cholesterol from oxidizing.
- Note – Choose a chocolate that has bittersweet taste or dark one. Milk chocolate has no flavonoids.
- Coconut Oil: Although, coconut oil is a saturated fat, it is considered one of the most beneficial and effective home remedies for high cholesterol. It contains lauric acid that increases HDL and improves the LDL/HDL ratio. While cooking, add moderate amount of organic coconut oil. Consume at least one to two tablespoons of this oil daily.
- Note – Do not use processed or refined coconut oil.
- Coriander Seeds: Studies have shown that coriander can lower the levels of total cholesterol and triglycerides. The seeds of coriander have hypoglycemic effects that are also beneficial for diabetic patients. Take one cup of water and add 2 teaspoons of coriander seed powder to it. Boil this solution for a few seconds, and then, strain. Add some milk, sugar, and cardamom for taste. Drink it twice a day.
- Eggplant: is a reasonable and easily accessible vegetable that contains ample amount of dietary fiber, potassium, vitamin B1 and B6, manganese, niacin, folate, copper and many more essential nutrients that maintain blood cholesterol levels. Eggplant also contains nasunin, a free radical scavenger that improves the blood flow by relaxing the walls of blood vessels. Incorporate brinjal in your diet to reduce the harmful LDL cholesterol from your body. It can be consumed in any form – stuffed, marinated, grilled, roasted, or fried. Alternatively, you can have an eggplant juice for balancing your cholesterol levels.
- Note: People with gall bladder or kidney diseases should avoid eating brinjals, as they are rich in oxalates.
- Those who have acidity problem should avoid its consumption.
- If you have excessive bile humor, avoid eating it.
- It should not be consumed during pregnancy.
- Fish Oil: Fish oils and fatty fish such as tuna, mackerel, trout, salmon, herring, bluefish and sardines are loaded with omega-3 fatty acids. They lower triglycerides and prevent heart ailments. Consume around 1-4 gram of fish oil daily. Moreover, eat at least 2 servings of fish once in a week, most probably fatty fish, as they are the richest source of omega-3 fatty acids.
- Alternatively, if you are a vegetarian, then include ground flaxseeds which are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
- Garlic: The high nutritional value and unique taste of garlic has made it a kitchen staple. It plays an important role in treating several diseases, apart from adding up an appetizing savor to food. The anti-clotting properties and sulfur contents of garlic balances the cholesterol level and reduce the formation of plaque in blood vessels and prevents clots that can cause heart stroke. Grate freshly peeled raw garlic onto your salad dressings, dal, rasam, pizza, or soups.
- Alternatively, consume 2 – 4 cloves of garlic with water every day.
- Honey: Honey is loaded with a number of minerals and vitamins which makes it an ultimate cholesterol fighter. Besides, the antioxidants present in honey do not let the cholesterol move out of the blood and also prevents its entry into the lining of the blood vessels.
- Add 1 teaspoon of honey to 1 cup of hot water. You can also add one teaspoon of lemon juice or 10 drops of apple cider vinegar to this solution. Drink it in the morning. This may reduce excess fat from your system and maintain cholesterol level.
- Alternatively, take a teaspoon of ground cinnamon and mix it in a cup of boiling water. Cover it for 30 minutes. Afterwards, strain this solution and add one teaspoon of honey to this concoction. Drink it on an empty stomach half an hour before your breakfast.
- Nuts: Nuts are loaded with healthy monounsaturated fats, proteins, fiber, nutrients, vitamins, and antioxidants. One should include a handful of nuts in daily diet. Peanuts, walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, pistachios, pecans, and other nuts reduce blood cholesterol. Studies have revealed that eating a quarter cup of almonds a day can lower LDL by 4.4 percent. Moreover, you can consume some roasted almonds without oil. Walnuts contain high levels of omega-3 fatty acids. Chomp them to lower your LDL by 16 percent. Note – All nuts are high in calories, so avoid overeating.
- Oatmeal: Oats are considered as traditional cholesterol buster. It is packed with soluble fiber and contains beta-glucans that helps reduce the absorption of cholesterol and lower down its level naturally. You can drop your LDL by 12-24%, if you eat 1½ cups of oatmeal regularly.
- Olive Oil: Olive oil is enriched with heart-healthy monounsaturated fats that can cut down the LDL cholesterol without affecting the HDL. Consume at least 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a day. You can also sauté or roast the vegetables in this oil. Alternatively, use it in salad dressings or for marinating chicken and fish.
- Moreover, use olive oil as an alternative for butter while basting meat, or can be used as a dip for bread. Note – Olive oil contains lot of calories, so don’t consume more than the recommended quantity.
- Onions: Grind an onion in a juicer. Add one teaspoon of honey in a teaspoon of onion juice. Alternatively, take one cup of buttermilk and mix one finely chopped onion along with one-quarter teaspoon of pepper in it. Consume it on daily basis.
- Orange Juice: Orange juice is a rich source of vitamin C, flavonoids and folate. Drinking 3 cups of fresh orange juice regularly can help you reduce blood cholesterol levels.
- Mustard Greens: Mustard greens have anti-inflammatory properties, and are also abundant in sulforaphane, calcium, fiber, and vitamin C that regulate the blood pressure and cholesterol levels. These are low in sodium, hence, reduce the LDL. Consume half cup of mustard greens, in a day, to lower down the cholesterol level by 15 percent.
- Red Wine: Alcohol can lift up the HDL cholesterol level by 5-15 percent. Red wine is advantageous in lowering cholesterol level because of its polyphenol antioxidants. It is recommended that women should drink a 5-ounce glass of wine, in a day, while men can drink up to two glasses. If you don’t prefer to take alcohol, then substitute it with grape juice. It provides equal benefits.
- Soybeans: Soybeans are well-off in magnesium, phosphorus, protein, calcium, B complex vitamins, and iron. It contains 10 times more calcium than meat. Eating soya nuts, soybeans and other food products made from soy (tofu and soy milk) are the modest way to reduce the production of new cholesterol. It is recommended that consuming 25 grams of soya protein in a day can lower the high cholesterol by 5-6 percent.
- Note – Some people may face digestion problems when they eat soya. They may perceive loose stools, stomach ache, or diarrhea. So consult a nutritionist before including this smart food into your diet.
- Spinach: Spinach contains plenty of lutein that prevents the cholesterol from getting attached to the arterial walls and protects arteries from clogging. Vitamin E present in it checks the formation of plaque, hence, reduces the risk of heart stroke. Alternatively, you can consume baby spinach leaves for a small meal. Just microwave them for 3 minutes. Add some Parmesan. Eat it with a whole wheat bread. It is a healthy snack that lowers your cholesterol level
- Tomatoes: Tomatoes are an important source of lycopene, an antioxidant that gives tomatoes their red color. Daily consumption of lycopene lowers the level of LDL cholesterol. Simply munch on raw tomatoes or sip tomato juice.
- Note – Cooking tomatoes with some oil helps your body to absorb more lycopene.
- Turmeric: Turmeric holds excellent wound healing properties. It also lowers the levels of LDL cholesterol; hence, it can cut down the build-up of plaque on the walls of the arteries. This may lower the blood cholesterol.
- Adding a dash of turmeric powder to the curries and vegetable while cooking is one of the best ways to get a daily dose of this powerful herb.
- Alternatively, boil 1½ tablespoons of water and mix ¾ teaspoon turmeric and 2 tablespoons of cooked mashed eggplant in it. Now, spread this paste on whole wheat bread and eat after meals.
- Yogurt: Regular consumption of one cup plain yogurt with active cultures can reduce your LDL (bad cholesterol) by 4 percent. Apart from this, it reduces the overall risk of heart ailments by 10 percent
Chest pain: If the arteries that supply your heart with blood (coronary arteries) are affected, you may have chest pain (angina) and other symptoms of coronary artery disease.
Heart attack: If plaques tear or rupture, a blood clot may form at the plaque-rupture site — blocking the flow of blood or breaking free and plugging an artery downstream. If blood flow to part of your heart stops, you'll have a heart attack.
Stroke: Similar to a heart attack, if blood flow to part of your brain is blocked by a blood clot, a stroke occurs.