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High Cholesterol: Its Dangers and Help with Prevention
Because there are seldom signs or symptoms of high blood cholesterol, many individuals are not aware that their cholesterol level may be too high. That’s why, starting as early as age 20, everyone should have cholesterol levels checked at least once every 5 years. People at risk or over 65 should discuss with their doctors how often they should be tested.
The Two Types of Cholesterol and their Differences
Low-density lipoproteins (LDL) carry cholesterol to all the cells in your body, including the arteries that supply blood to your heart. LDL cholesterol is sometimes called “bad” cholesterol because it can build up in the walls of your arteries. The higher the level of LDL cholesterol in your blood, the greater your chances of getting heart disease. High-density lipoproteins (HDL) carry cholesterol away from the cells in your body. HDL cholesterol is sometimes called “good” cholesterol because it helps remove cholesterol from your artery walls, then the liver removes the cholesterol from your body. The higher your HDL cholesterol level, the lower your chances of getting heart disease. When doctors talk about concerns over cholesterol, they are usually referring to LDL cholesterol.
The Dangers of High LDL Cholesterol
Cholesterol can build up on the walls of your arteries, the blood vessels that carry blood from the heart to other parts of the body. This buildup of cholesterol is called plaque, and can pose these health dangers:
- Artherosclerosis. This is also referred to as hardening of the arteries. Over time, the plaque can build up enough to narrow your arteries, and can slow down or block the flow of blood to your heart.
- Coronary Heart Disease (CHD). Artherosclerosis can occur in blood vessels anywhere in your body, including the ones that bring blood to your heart, called the coronary arteries. If plaque builds up in these arteries, the blood may not be able to bring enough oxygen to the heart muscle.
- Angina. The buildup of plaque can lead to chest pain called angina, a common symptom of CHD. It happens when the heart does not receive enough oxygen-rich blood from the lungs.
- Heart Attack. Some plaques have a thin covering, so they may rupture or break open. A blood clot can then form over the plaque. A clot can block the flow of blood through the artery, and cause a heart attack.
Factors you cannot control: High blood cholesterol can run in families. An inherited genetic condition (familial hypercholesterolemia) results in very high LDL cholesterol levels. It begins at birth, and can cause a heart attack at an early age. Other factors you can’t control are related to age and sex. Starting at puberty, men have lower levels of HDL than women. As women and men get older, LDL cholesterol levels rise. Younger women have lower LDL cholesterol levels than men, but after age 55, women have higher levels than men.
Lowering Your Cholesterol Can Affect Plaque
Lowering your cholesterol level reduces your chances of plaque rupturing and causing a heart attack. It may also slow down, reduce, or even stop plaque from building up ? and reduces your chances of dying from heart disease. Certain foods have types of fat that raise your cholesterol level.
What to avoid:
- Saturated fat raises your low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol level more than anything else in your diet. Choose leaner cuts of meat, low-fat dairy and monounsaturated fats, as found in olive and canola oils, as healthier options.
- Trans fatty acids (trans fats) are made when vegetable oil is hydrogenated to harden it. Trans fatty acids also raise cholesterol levels. Trans fats are in fried foods and many commercial products, such as cookies, crackers, and snack cakes. Even small amounts of trans fat can add up, if you eat foods that contain small amounts of it. Read the ingredient list on labels, and avoid foods with partially hydrogenated oils.
- Cholesterol is found in foods that come from animal sources, such as egg yolks, meat, and cheese.
What you can do:
- Eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids don't affect LDL cholesterol. They have other heart benefits, such as helping to increase high-density lipoprotein (HDL, or "good") cholesterol, reducing your triglycerides, a type of fat in your blood, and reducing blood pressure. Some types of fish, such as salmon, mackerel, and herring, are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Other good sources of omega-3 fatty acids include walnuts, almonds, and ground flaxseeds.
- Increase soluble fiber. There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Both have heart-health benefits, but soluble fiber also helps lower your LDL levels. Add soluble fiber to your diet by eating oats and oat bran, fruits, beans, lentils, and vegetables.
- Add whey protein. Whey protein is one of two proteins in dairy products. The other is casein. Whey protein may account for many of the health benefits attributed to dairy. Whey protein given as a supplement lowers both LDL and total cholesterol.
Other preventions include watching your weight ? because being overweight tends to increase your LDL level, lower your high-density lipoprotein (HDL) level, and increase your total cholesterol level. It’s also good to be active. Regular exercise can help you lose weight and lower your LDL level while helping to raise your HDL level.
Comfort Keepers® can help. Our caregivers can help plan and prepare healthy meals for loved ones, and encourage them to stay active. They will also help them make healthier lifestyle choices, see that they take their medications, and help out with daily tasks around the home. Call your local office today to discuss all of our available services.
AgingCare.com. “High Cholesterol in the Elderly”. Web. 2016.
WebMD. “Are High Cholesterol Levels Bad for Older People? Web. 2016.
NIH Senior Health. “What is High Blood Cholesterol?” Web. 2016.
Centers for Disease Control (CDC). “Cholesterol Facts”. Web. 2015.