Understanding Cholesterol

Knowing the good and the bad

According to a study on coronary artery disease in Malaysian youths, about 70% of those between the ages of 15 and 24 have at least one cardiovascular risk factor. One of the major contributing factors to this can be narrowed down to high cholesterol, diabetes, and hypertension.

The Malaysian youths must act immediately and dispose of the notion that heart attacks only affect the elderly. On that note, we aim to shed some light on one of the major contributing factors to heart disease among youths: high cholesterol.

What is Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a type of lipid in which it’s a waxy-like substance found in your blood. Cholesterol is produced by the liver naturally and it plays a significant role in cell formation, hormones and is linked with Vitamin D.

Experts believe the liver and kidney help transform Vitamin D into cholesterol which later helps our skin cells. Cholesterol is a more well-known type of lipid and its composition consists of part protein and part lipid. The human body needs lipids to continue being healthy.

CHOLESTEROL IS PRODUCED BY THE LIVER NATURALLY AND IT PLAYS A SIGNIFICANT ROLE IN CELL FORMATION, HORMONES AND IS LINKED WITH VITAMIN D.

Different types of cholesterol

There are various types of cholesterols. Some are healthy and some pose a risk to human health. Below are further insights.

  • LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol

    LDL cholesterol is sometimes called the ‘bad cholesterol’ and it composites most of the human body’s cholesterol. LDL is called bad cholesterol because it transports cholesterol to the arteries and in turn, this cholesterol can sometimes accumulate in the artery walls.

    An overaccumulation of cholesterol in the arteries may cause the buildup of atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis refers to the buildup of plaque that can increase the risk of blood clots in the arteries.

    INFO: When there is an excess level of LDL cholesterol in the body, it can accumulate on the walls of your blood vessels. This accumulation is called ‘plaque’ and too much growth of plaque can endanger your health by posing a risk to various health problems such as heart disease and stroke.

  • HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol
    HDL cholesterol is sometimes called the ‘good cholesterol’ because it absorbs cholesterol in the blood and then carries it directly to the liver. The liver then helps flush HDL from the body. HDL is believed to help the body expel excess cholesterol. This lessens the likelihood of excess cholesterol accumulating in the arteries.

LDL IS CALLED BAD CHOLESTEROL BECAUSE IT TRANSPORTS CHOLESTEROL TO THE ARTERIES AND IN TURN, THIS CHOLESTEROL CAN SOMETIMES ACCUMULATE IN THE ARTERY WALLS.

Cholesterol Scale Indicator

Less than 2.6mmol/L of LDL cholesterol is considered ideal. The risk of heart disease may double if one’s total cholesterol level exceeds 5.2 mmol/L.

What’s the link between triglycerides and heart problems?

Triglycerides are lipids, which are waxy fats that provide energy to the body. Triglycerides are both produced by your body and obtained from meals. The risk of heart attack, stroke, and pancreatitis increases when your triglycerides and cholesterol are high.

Causes that lead to unhealthy cholesterol levels

There are some lifestyle factors that may contribute to high cholesterol:

  • Consuming foods that are high in trans fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol.
  • Obesity.
  • Smoking.
  • Not exercising enough.
  • Excessive alcohol consumption.

Risk factors

There may be a higher risk of one developing higher cholesterol if they:

  • Are obese.
  • Frequently consume fatty foods.
  • Have insufficient physical activity.
  • Come from a family that has a history of high cholesterol.
  • Have diabetes.

Complications

Without treatment or early detection, LDL (bad cholesterol) can accumulate in your arteries over time, turning into plaque. This in turn can pose a risk of narrowing the arteries. It’s also known as atherosclerosis.

Atherosclerosis if left untreated can limit the blood flow through the arteries. As a result, it can also increase the risk of developing dangerous blood clots.

Other high-risk conditions can also stem from atherosclerosis, such as (but not limited to):

  • Stroke
  • High blood pressure
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Chest pains (angina)

WITHOUT TREATMENT OR EARLY DETECTION, LDL CAN ACCUMULATE IN YOUR ARTERIES OVER TIME, TURNING INTO PLAQUE.

Tips to lower cholesterol

Do consult with your doctor regarding the most effective steps you can take to manage or lower your cholesterol level. Your doctor may suggest you to make some lifestyle alterations as the first step. They can often look like this:

  • Make changes to your diet
    Your doctor may suggest you refrain from eating foods that are highly fatty. This can include fast foods and sugary foods. Instead, you will be advised to eat foods that are high in lean protein such as fish, legumes, and more. You may also be advised to consume high-fiber food such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
  • Exercise regularly
    Exercises such as running, biking, yoga, and swimming are said to increase HDL (good cholesterol) levels.
  • Avoid alcohol consumption and smoking
    Alcohol consumption increases blood triglycerides and cholesterol levels. If your triglyceride levels reach too high, they might build up in the liver, leading to fatty liver disease. Your cholesterol levels increase because the liver is unable to function as effectively as it should and cannot eliminate cholesterol from the blood.

Source: WebMD, Healthline, Mayo Clinic, Free Malaysia Today, Centers For Disease Control & Prevention (United States), NHS UK.