What Are The Effects Of High Cholesterol On The Body?
Cholesterol is a waxy substance found in the blood and cells. The liver produces most of the cholesterol in your body. The rest comes from the foods you eat. Cholesterol circulates in the blood in a package called lipoproteins.
Types of cholesterol
- Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is the “bad”, unhealthy type of cholesterol; LDL cholesterol builds up in the arteries and forms fatty, waxy deposits called plaque.
- High-density lipoprotein (HDL) is the “good”, healthier type of cholesterol. It transports excess cholesterol from the arteries to the liver, where it is excreted from the body.
Cholesterol itself isn’t bad. Your body needs cholesterol to make hormones, vitamin D and digestive juices. Cholesterol also helps your internal organs work properly.
But high LDL cholesterol can be a problem; high LDL cholesterol levels can damage your arteries over time, causing heart disease and increasing the risk of stroke. Controlling cholesterol during regular doctor visits and reducing the risk of heart disease through diet, exercise, lifestyle changes and medication can reduce heart disease complications and improve quality of life.
What are the causes of unhealthy cholesterol levels in the body?
There are two main forms of cholesterol, the first of which is LDL cholesterol, often referred to as “bad cholesterol”. High levels of LDL cholesterol in the body are considered unhealthy. The second, HDL cholesterol, is sometimes referred to as “good cholesterol.” High HDL cholesterol is a sign of good health.
If your doctor tells you that you have high cholesterol, he or she is usually referring to high LDL cholesterol or total cholesterol. Total cholesterol, sometimes called serum cholesterol, is the sum of LDL and HDL cholesterol and 20% of triglycerides; both LDL and total cholesterol can be used as indicators of your risk for cardiovascular disease and other complications.
Hyperglycemia (high blood sugar levels)
High blood sugar levels cause an increase in LDL cholesterol and a decrease in HDL cholesterol. High blood sugar also damages the walls of your arteries. This increases the risk of fatty deposits building up in the arteries.
In addition to obesity and waist circumference, some people have a genetic predisposition to hyperglycemia. Lifestyle choices, such as eating a diet high in soft drinks, candy, and sugary foods, can also contribute to high blood sugar levels.
Some risk factors for high cholesterol can be adequately controlled by lifestyle choices. These include diet, exercise, and smoking.
Diets high in saturated and trans fats can raise cholesterol levels. Foods that are high in these fats include
- Red meat
- Full-fat yogurt
- Fried foods
- Sugary snacks
Exercise can help raise HDL cholesterol and lower LDL cholesterol. This means that adding exercise to your daily routine can help promote healthy levels of cholesterol in your body.
Aim for 150 minutes of moderate-to-high intensity aerobic exercise each week. If you’re new to this, you don’t need to start exercising this much. Instead, make sure you reach this goal and consult your doctor before starting a new exercise program. Also, try adding resistance exercises such as weights or yoga to your exercise program.
Too much LDL cholesterol in the body can build up in the arteries, clogging them and making them less elastic. The hardening of the arteries is called atherosclerosis. Blood does not flow well through hardened arteries, so the heart must work harder to push blood through them.
Over time, heart disease occurs when plaque builds up in the arteries.
When plaque builds up in the coronary arteries, it blocks the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the heart muscle. This causes chest pain called angina. Angina is not a heart attack, but a temporary blockage of blood flow. It is a warning that you are at risk for a heart attack. Eventually, some of the plaque may break off and form a blood clot, or the artery may continue to narrow, completely blocking blood flow to the heart and causing a heart attack. When this process occurs in the arteries leading to the brain or in the brain, it can cause a stroke.
Plaque can also block blood flow to the arteries that supply blood to the intestines, legs and feet. This is called peripheral artery disease (PAD).
The body’s hormone-producing glands use cholesterol to make hormones such as estrogen, testosterone and cortisol. Hormones also affect the body’s cholesterol levels. Studies have shown that when estrogen levels rise during a woman’s menstrual cycle, HDL cholesterol levels also rise and LDL cholesterol levels fall. This may be one reason why estrogen levels decline after menopause and the risk of heart disease increases.
Decreased thyroid hormone production (hypothyroidism) leads to an increase in total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol. Too much thyroid hormone (hyperthyroidism) can have the opposite effect. Androgen deprivation therapy, which reduces testosterone and stops the growth of prostate cancer, may increase LDL cholesterol levels. Growth hormone deficiency can also increase LDL cholesterol levels.
Cholesterol is an important component of the human brain. In fact, the brain contains about 25% of the body’s total cholesterol stores. This fat is essential for the development and protection of nerve cells, which allow the brain to communicate with the rest of the body.
Some cholesterol is necessary for optimal brain function, but too much can be harmful. Too much cholesterol in the arteries can lead to strokes or interruptions in blood flow, which can impair some brain functions and lead to loss of memory, motor skills, difficulty swallowing, speech and other functions.
High cholesterol alone has been known to impair memory and mental function. High cholesterol levels in the blood may promote the formation of beta-amyloid plaques, which are sticky protein deposits that damage the brain in people with Alzheimer’s disease.
In the digestive system, cholesterol is necessary for the production of bile, which helps break down food and absorb nutrients from the intestines. However, if there is too much cholesterol in the bile, the excess cholesterol can turn into crystals and form hard stones in the gallbladder. Stones can be very painful.
Monitoring your cholesterol levels with the recommended blood tests reduces your risk of heart disease and helps improve your overall quality of life.