All about high cholesterol: normal level, causes and natural remedies
High cholesterol occurs when you have too much cholesterol in your blood - a fatty substance that, in excess, can increase the risk of heart disease. This high level is caused by diet, lack of sports, genetic inheritance, extra pounds, alcohol and smoking. To lower your cholesterol, you can go on a diet, exercise and be treated with medications or natural remedies.
Cholesterol is a type of lipid (a waxy, fat-like organic substance that is insoluble in water). Naturally produced by the human liver and ingested through food, cholesterol is vital for the formation of cell membranes, certain hormones, digestive bile acids and Vitamin D. But when it reaches a too high level and is stored in the blood vessels, cholesterol can block the circulation through the arteries, form clots and cause cardiovascular diseases: heart diseases, heart attack, stroke.
Cholesterol is transported in the blood, in which it is not soluble, in the form of lipoproteins (particles composed of fat and protein). They can be low density ("bad" / LDL cholesterol) or high ("good" / HDL cholesterol). If your blood contains too much LDL, you have high cholesterol, a situation in which - unfortunately - you will not have obvious symptoms, so it is important to check your cholesterol level with your doctor, through regular medical tests.
Increased cholesterol is medically called dyslipidemia or hypercholesterolemia. This is the result of an unhealthy lifestyle (from a food point of view and lack of regular sports), but it can also be inherited genetically. It can be prevented and treated by several methods.
Types of fats in the blood
Fats called lipids circulate through our blood, which play an essential role in the body and are harmful in excess. These are substances produced by the liver and accumulated from the diet:
- cholesterol: used by the body at the cellular and hormonal level;
- triglycerides: when you consume more calories than your body needs, it turns them into triglycerides, which are a source of energy and are stored in fat cells;
What is cholesterol and what is its role in the body?
Cholesterol is a beneficial and harmful substance at the same time. If it reaches a too high concentration in the blood, it becomes dangerous. When it has a normal level in the body, it is essential for 4 vital functions, necessary for human survival:
- maintains the structure of cell walls;
- contributes to the creation of digestive bile acids in the intestine;
- contributes to the creation of certain hormones (progesterone, aldosterone, cortisone, estrogen and testosterone);
- contributes to the synthesis of Vitamin D.
Types of cholesterol
Depending on the type of lipoprotein that carries it through the blood, the main types of cholesterol are:
- „good” cholesterol or high density lipoprotein (HDL): constitutes 20-30% of total cholesterol; these lipoproteins collect excess cholesterol from the blood and take it back to the liver, to be broken down and eliminated from the body; helps the body fight diseases associated with high cholesterol;
- „bad” cholesterol or low-density lipoprotein (LDL): constitutes 60-70% of total cholesterol; transports cholesterol through the blood and, over time, accumulates on the arterial walls, narrowing them, strengthening them and leading to the appearance of various diseases.
Causes or risk factors for high cholesterol
Our liver naturally produces all the LDL cholesterol we need, but human behavior and factors independent of it can affect cholesterol levels. Its excess is caused by:
- an unhealthy eating style: excessive consumption of products rich in added sugar, saturated and trans fats, processed, fried and of animal origin, the only ones that contain cholesterol - meat, dairy, eggs;
- lack of physical activity: decreases the level of HDL and the size of LDL particles, making them more harmful;
- overweight and / or obesity: causes an increased level of triglycerides; a body mass index of 30 or higher increases your risk of high cholesterol;
- smoking or exposure to cigarette smoke: reduces the level of HDL and affects the vascular walls, making them more prone to the accumulation of fat deposits;
- genetic inheritance: high cholesterol can be inherited in the family, as well as family hypercholesterolemia, a disease triggered by a genetic mutation and manifested by an elevated LDL level and early-onset cardiovascular damage;
- age: the body's chemistry changes with age, the liver being less and less effective at eliminating LDL and the risk of increased cholesterol increases;
- drugs that increase LDL and lower HDL: progestins, anabolic steroids and corticosteroids;
- other diseases: kidney diseases, liver diseases, polycystic ovary syndrome, diabetes, hypothyroidism, alcohol dependence, menopause or pregnancy.
Complications of high cholesterol
By accumulating on the arterial walls over time and restricting blood flow to the heart, brain and the rest of the body, high cholesterol can increase the risk of developing:
- blood clots and hypertension;
- coronary heart disease / ischemic heart disease (manifested by angina pectoris = pain in the arm or chest, in times of stress or intense physical activity);
- atherosclerosis (it is caused by narrowing of the arteries and decreased blood flow);
- heart attack / stroke;
- transient ischemic attack and stroke;
- peripheral arterial disease;
- acute pancreatitis;
- gallstones and chronic kidney disease.
Symptoms of high cholesterol
Dyslipidemia does not manifest itself concretely, through alarming or specific symptoms, so you can have high cholesterol without knowing it. Excess fat is stored by the body inside the arteries and only when the situation worsens and heart problems occur, which can be life threatening, the person in question can go to the doctor. Only a blood test can tell you how you are doing in this regard. This means that regular medical tests are the only way to keep your cholesterol under control, know what your risks are and prevent serious illnesses.
Remember that it is important to have a normal level of cholesterol throughout your life: if you find out in old age that it is increased, treatment is more difficult than prevention would have been. Lifestyle changes do not have the same impact on cholesterol levels as those made in youth.
When do I have to go to a doctor?
How often should you check your blood cholesterol level? Children and adolescents without risk factors (sedentary, obese, with a family history, heart disease) are usually tested between the ages of 9-11 years, respectively 17-19 years. Over time, the human body produces more cholesterol, so all people over the age of 20 should measure their level at least once every 5 years. Doctors recommend more frequent testing for men over 35, women over 45, people whose tests did not have normal values and have certain risk factors.
Total cholesterol levels fluctuate throughout the day, so profile tests are always done in the morning, on an empty stomach. The set of blood tests that measure cholesterol levels are called the lipid profile and include the measurement of:
- total cholesterol: for adults, the normal level is below 200 mg / deciliter; it is made up of three types of fat from the blood;
- "bad" cholesterol / LDL: for adults, the normal level is below 100 mg / deciliter;
- "good" cholesterol / HDL: for adults, the normal level is between 40-60 mg / deciliter;
- triglycerides: the normal level is less than 150 mg / deciliter, for adults.
How to lower your cholesterol
Given that dyslipidemias are largely caused by lifestyle (a factor that can be controlled), they can be treated by changing it. In addition, high cholesterol is controlled by doctors through medication or treated at home, using natural remedies. Experts say that lifestyle changes can reduce cholesterol levels by up to 20%, but that depends on the person: on average, doctors give patients 3 months to see what changes occur.
Find out below the recommended methods for treating high cholesterol (the first three and the last can also be used to prevent dyslipidemia)!
Other food choices:
- limit the intake of foods rich in refined sugar, trans and saturated fats (processed foods, fried, rich in carbohydrates = fast food, red meat, organs, sausages, salami, dairy fats, eggs, sweets from the trade, oil-rich products palm oil, cocoa butter, hydrogenated oils, margarine, coconut oil);
- consume several low sources of protein (chicken, fish, legumes);
- choose more often products rich in Omega-3 essential fatty acids, which can reduce the level of LDL and triglycerides (salmon, tuna, sardines, mackerel, nuts, almonds, flax seeds, avocado);
- eat a wide variety of high-fiber products (fruits, vegetables, whole grains);
- cook in the oven, grill or boil the food.
Exercise and sports done regularly:
A sedentary lifestyle can contribute to a higher level of "bad" cholesterol and a lower level of "good" cholesterol. Aerobic exercise helps your body increase its HDL level, which is important when it comes to protecting against cardiovascular disease. In addition, sports help you lose extra pounds: a reduction of only 10% in weight can improve cholesterol levels. Opt for 150 minutes of sports / week or 30 minutes / day: light running / jogging, cycling, dancing, swimming, aerobics. Even intense gardening moves your muscles and blood, helping your cholesterol levels drop.
Quitting smoking and alcohol:
Smoking lowers HDL cholesterol and increases the risk of coronary heart disease, so quit smoking and stop being around people who smoke (passive smoking is not good either). Research shows that high alcohol consumption reduces "good" cholesterol levels, raising triglycerides.
Your doctor may prescribe a variety of medications designed to fight high cholesterol: statins, cholesterol absorption inhibitors, bile acid sequestrants (resins), supplements containing monacolin K (based on red rice yeast) or niacin (Vitamin B3, intended to combat high triglycerides; when they decrease, the value of LDL is reduced, while increasing that of HDL cholesterol).
Natural remedies that can lower cholesterol:
Natural remedies can also be a solution when it comes to lowering cholesterol. But certain alternative therapies can interfere with drug treatment and have harmful side effects. Therefore, before trying an alternative method of treatment, seek the advice of your doctor, who knows your medical history and is best able to make decisions about your health!
You can try the following natural remedies to fight high cholesterol:
- Astragalus root (Astragalus propinquus or “huang qi”, in Chinese): it is a plant of the Fabaceae family (related, therefore, to beans, soybeans, peas, chickpeas, alfalfa / lucerne, hazelnuts and carob); one of the 50 basic plants in traditional Chinese medicine, Astragalus has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, is considered to be an "adaptogenic plant" (which protects the body from stress) and some studies suggest that it can help the heart;
- Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna): the leaves, flowers and fruits of this shrub from the rose family (Rosaceae) have been used as a remedy against heart problems since the Roman Empire;
- flax seeds (Linum usitatissimum): they have been used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic medicine, and Charles the Great ordered his subjects to consume them, in order to be healthy; flaxseed and oil contain high levels of alpha-linoleic acid (ALA), a type of Omega-3 that can reduce the risk of heart disease and some research shows that these seeds can lower cholesterol; flax seeds are eaten ground or soaked in plenty of water (because they have a hard outer layer, they can pass undigested through the intestine, so the outer barrier must be loosened before consumption);
- garlic (Allium sativum): this culinary ingredient has been used for medical purposes for thousands of years and can be administered raw, cooked or as a food supplement (capsules / tablets); some studies indicate that it can lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, slowing the progression of atherosclerosis;
- red rice yeast: it is a food ingredient and a natural medicine traditionally used in China; it is obtained after fermentation of rice in the presence of the mold Monascus purpureus (which also gives it an intense purple-red color); fermentation produces substantial amounts of monacolin K, which can lower cholesterol;
- plant sterols and stanols: substances found in many fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and cereals (but also in certain fortified foods - yogurts, orange juice), they can reduce the risk of heart disease; they prevent the absorption of cholesterol in the small intestine and therefore reduce the level of LDL in the blood;
- natural treatments / remedies: discover on our site some remedies against high cholesterol and try them yourself - they are easy to prepare and contain handy ingredients.
→ rhubarb macerate with honey
→ smoothie with a lot of chlorophyll
→ juice of ginger, lemon and honey
→ garlic and ginger tea
→ maceration of onions and parsley in white wine with honey
→ super 4 method, miracle remedy for the heart.
Did you know that…?
- People of all ages, genders and ethnicities can have high cholesterol?
- The total cholesterol level tend to increase with age?
- Women tend to have lower total cholesterol than men and more HDL than they do (but only until they enter menopause)?
- The "good" cholesterol / HDL level in the body can be too high? Its level does not rise excessively in the case of people with a metabolism that behaves normally, about the processing of cholesterol. Also, you don't have to worry that you have too little cholesterol in your diet - the human body produces enough, regardless of individual diet.
- If you have a high total cholesterol level due to a high LDL level, then you have an increased risk of heart disease or stroke? But if you have a high level of total cholesterol due to HDL, then this risk disappears.
- Cholesterol levels are different depending on gender, age, weight and the geographical region in which you live?
- To prevent high cholesterol, you should get a maximum of 10% of your daily calories from saturated fat or added sugar? Always read the labels of commercially purchased products carefully!