How are Cholesterol and Heart Health Related?
Did you know cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) are the leading cause of mortality in India? In 2016, heart diseases were the biggest killer, accounting for 28.1% of all deaths in India, as per Indian Council of Medical Research. There are several factors that can cause CVD and one of them is high blood cholesterol. Here we tell you how cholesterol and heart health is related. Read on!
How does cholesterol affect heart health?
Cholesterol is required by our body to sustain a multitude of physiological functions such as the formation of cells, hormone production, digestion and much more. It is synthesized in the body and hence it is not an essential dietary component. Cholesterol becomes a problem only when the level is too high in the blood.
High blood cholesterol itself has no signs and symptoms, but it can increase the risk for CVD such as coronary heart disease (CHD), heart attack or stroke. High blood cholesterol is diagnosed by a lipid panel test. It is a blood test that measures the level of total cholesterol, HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol and triglycerides (a type of fat molecule) in your blood.
Total/HDL cholesterol and LDL/HDL cholesterol ratios are better risk indicators for CVD with greater predictive value than isolated parameters used independently, particularly LDL. The ratio of total/HDL cholesterol should be > 5.0 and LDL/HDL cholesterol should be > 3.5 for men. Similarly, for women, it should be > 4.5 and > 3.0 respectively. These ratios are extremely important for the better analysis of CVD risk in individuals.
What are the Causes of High Blood Cholesterol?
High blood cholesterol causes due to increased LDL levels, triglycerides levels or both and also due to low levels of HDL. Excess LDL buildup can narrow the arteries and restrict blood flow through them. It can also lead to dangerous blood clots and inflammation that can cause heart attacks and strokes. A higher level of HDL in the blood reduces the levels of the harmful cholesterol and thereby also reduces the risk of CVD.
Some common factors that causes high blood cholesterol and affect heart health are :
Eating a diet rich in saturated fats, found in animal products, and trans fats, found in some commercially produced products such as fried foods, baked foods and some oils can raise your cholesterol level. Foods high in cholesterol, such as red meat and full-fat dairy products, will also increase your total cholesterol.
Being obese can increase your blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels. People with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or greater, are obese and have a risk of high cholesterol.
Regular physical exercise does not reduce total cholesterol and LDL if there is no weight loss, although it is effective in increasing HDL cholesterol and reducing triglycerides.
Cigarette smoking damages the walls of your blood vessels, making them more likely to accumulate fatty deposits. Smoking may also lower your levels of HDL, thus increasing the risk for high cholesterol.
High blood sugar contributes to higher LDL cholesterol and lowers HDL cholesterol in your body. High blood sugar also damages the lining of your arteries increasing the risk of CVD.
Familial hypercholesterolemia is a genetic disorder that leads to an increased level of LDL as the body is unable to remove them. This occurs due to mutation of a gene.
Additionally, it is widely believed that having cholesterol-rich foods increases your blood cholesterol level and leads to a higher risk of CVD. But, this is not entirely true. According to recent studies, dietary cholesterol has a minor role in increasing CVD risks.
Should you avoid cholesterol-rich foods completely?
The impact of eating cholesterol-rich foods will vary from individual to individual because the body processes cholesterol differently for each of us. It depends on a variety of factors which even include genetics. Thus, the risk of cholesterol-induced CVD will be more for certain individuals.
Also, even if dietary cholesterol increases blood cholesterol levels it includes both LDL and HDL resulting in the maintenance of the LDL/HDL cholesterol ratio, a key marker of CVD. Hence, in India, there is no recommended upper-level intake for dietary cholesterol.
Treatment for high blood cholesterol generally involves having cholesterol-lowering medications such as statins, aspirins and ezetimibe along with limiting intake of fat-rich foods and exercise. But, prevention is always better than cure.
You can reduce your risk of high blood cholesterol by eating a healthy, balanced diet that’s low in saturated fats and high in unsaturated fats (foods such as avocado, nuts, fish, and vegetable oils), exercising regularly, not smoking and cutting down on alcohol.
Disclaimer: Visit your doctor if you haven’t had your blood cholesterol levels checked, and more so if you’re above 30. Also, please follow your doctor’s recommendation if you’ve high blood cholesterol.