According to the Center for Disease Control, more than 102 million American adults have high cholesterol levels. About 34 percent of these people have hyperlipidemia (very high blood cholesterol levels) that puts them at risk of developing heart diseases.
Cholesterol is the waxy substance in your blood. Your body needs it to produce sex hormones, bile juice, and vitamin D. The liver produces 80% of the total cholesterol the body needs. The remaining 20 percent comes from the food that you eat.
A healthy adult should eat less than 300 milligrams of cholesterol per day. Animal products like eggs, meat, and dairy products have more cholesterol than plant-based foods. People whose diets are high in animal products tend to have high cholesterol levels.
Hyperlipidemia does not have symptoms. The only way to know whether you have it is to have your doctor perform a blood test known as a lipid panel. The test results will include:
1. Total Cholesterol
It is the total amount of cholesterol in the blood sample. The healthy range for people aged 20 and older is between 125 and 200 mg/dL. Those under 20 should be having less than 170 mg/dL.
2. Bad or LDL Cholesterol
Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol causes the buildup of plaques that blocks arteries. Regardless of your age and sex, the number should be below 100 mg/dL.
3. Good or HDL Cholesterol
High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol is the type of cholesterol that your body needs. It helps remove bad cholesterol from the arteries and prevent the buildup of plaques. The healthy level for men aged 20 and older should be above 40 mg/dL. Women aged 20 and older should have above 50 mg/dL. Those under 20 should have 45 mg/dL or higher.
Regardless of your age and sex, your triglyceride levels should be under 150 mg/dL. Between 150 to 199 mg/dL is a high range, 200 to 499 mg/dL is high, and anything above 500mg/dL is very high.
It is the total number of cholesterol minus HDL. It helps determine the level of other types of cholesterol like very-low-density lipoprotein (VLDL). The healthy level for people aged 20 and older is below 130 mg/dL. In those under 20, the number should be below 120 mg/dL.
You should get a cholesterol test every four years. Your doctor will order more frequent tests if you are at a higher risk.
The bad cholesterol and triglycerides join with other substances like calcium, fibrin, and cellular waste products in the blood to form a fatty deposit inside the walls of arteries. These deposits build up with time and make the artery walls thicken. The more the walls thicken, the narrower the passage becomes. That makes the walls of the affected arteries weak and lessens the number of nutrients and oxygen reaching the parts of the body that they feed.
Plaque can partially or totally block the flow of blood through the affected artery. The blockage can lead to conditions like:
- Peripheral artery disease
- Coronary heart disease
- Chronic kidney disease
Apart from blocking blood flow where the plaque forms, a plaque in a large artery can break off and get into the bloodstream. This plaque will flow in the bloodstream until it gets stuck in a smaller vessel and can cause a total blockage. If the affected artery supplies blood to the heart or brain, a stroke or heart attack occurs. If it takes blood to the legs or hands can cause tissue death.
Causes of Hyperlipidemia
The body chemistry also changes as you age. The risks of developing hyperlipidemia increase with age because the liver loses its ability to remove excess low-density lipoproteins from the blood as you age. Other potential causes of hyperlipidemia are:
Eating a well-balanced diet is all you need to improve your performance and strengthen your immune system. If your diet is rich in foods that contain high amounts of saturated fats, your risks of developing high cholesterol levels are high. Foods that are high in saturated fats include red meat and other animal products. Microwave popcorns and commercially baked cookies are high in triglycerides that also increases the risks of hyperlipidemia.
Chemicals in tobacco smoke cause damages to the inner lining of blood vessels. These damages make arteries more prone to accumulate fatty deposits. People who smoke also tend to have low levels of LDL.
High blood sugar damages the inner lining of blood vessels. That makes arteries more prone to accumulating fatty deposits. High blood pressure also lowers the levels of HDL and increases that of LDL cholesterol.
Obesity is now a global problem. It is common in people with sedentary lifestyles. Some of the complications it causes are hypertension, coronary heart disease, dyslipidemia, type 2 diabetes, and respiratory diseases.
6. Lack of exercise
Less active people tend to have higher levels of LDL. Calories start turning into fats four hours after eating. The less active you are, the more calories turn into fats.
7. Family history
Some people inherit the genes of Familial Hypercholesterolemia (FH) from their parents and grandparents. FH is an inherited defect that affects how the body recycles LDL. If your family has a history of FH, you should consider getting a cholesterol test earlier. That will help you start treatment earlier if need be to lower the risks of coronary diseases.
Hyperlipidemia Treatment & Prevention
If you have hyperlipidemia, your doctor will prescribe some medications. The most common are statins. Don’t take statins without your doctor’s approval. The common statins are:
- Lescol XL
Statins can cause serious side effects. Some of the common side effects are muscle and joint aches. They can also induce cognitive dysfunction and diabetes.
Your doctor can also prescribe Zetia to inhibit the absorption of cholesterol.
Some of the injectable medications for hyperlipidemia are Praluent and Repatha.
Hyperlipidemia is progressive and preventable. Simple lifestyle changes can help lower your blood cholesterol levels. Here are some of the lifestyle changes that you should consider to lower your cholesterol levels:
Reducing saturated fats and sugar intake can bring blood cholesterol levels in control. Some of the dietary changes that can help you control hyperlipidemia include:
1. Adopt a plant-based diet
Animal products have cholesterol. Anyone looking to lower cholesterol levels should adopt a plant-based diet. Whole grains, fruits, and vegetables are high in micronutrients and low in fats. That makes them good for your heart health and overall health. They can help lower your LDL and triglycerides.
2. Read food labels
You can control how much fats and sugar you are eating by reading food labels. To lower your cholesterol levels and improve your heart health, eat foods with minimal amounts of saturated fat and avoid sugary drinks. You can also replace highly processed foods with fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products.
3. Count calories
You might be having a high cholesterol level because you are eating more calories than your body needs. The body converts the extra calories into fats, making you gain weight. If you are overweight, you should reduce your calorie intake. That will help you lose weight and lower your cholesterol levels.
4. Up your fiber intake
There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Foods that are high in either of them or both are good for your digestive and heart health. A fiber-rich diet can help you detox and boost your immune system. The insoluble fiber traps fats in the gut and carries them out of the body in the form of stool. That helps lower the number of fats that get into the bloodstream.
5. Drop trans fats
Fried foods and processed foods like crackers and cookies are high in trans fats. Always read the labels of the food you are buying, and avoid processed foods that contain partially hydrogenated oil.
6. Avoid high cholesterol foods
Deep fried and processed foods are high in triglycerides and bad cholesterol (LDL). Baked and packaged desserts like cookies are also high in bad fat. Avoiding the type of foods will lower cholesterol levels and improve your heart health. If you must eat them, try not to eat them daily.
7. Eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential nutrients for your heart and brain health. They can lower the level of bad cholesterol while improving heart and brain health. Fatty fish like salmon, tuna, mackerel, and sardines are the best source of omega-3 fatty acids. Seeds and nuts like flax seeds and walnuts are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
There is no single diet that is suitable for everyone. The best food to eat depends on your health condition. You can ask a registered nutritionist or your doctor what diet is the best for you.
2. Get active
A less active or sedentary lifestyle increases your risk of diseases. It lowers your levels of good cholesterol. That means that you have less good cholesterol to remove the bad cholesterol from your arteries.
You don’t have to enroll in a gym. All that you need is 40 minutes of moderate exercise like walking, biking, swimming, pushups, squats, and lunges three to four times a week. That translates to approximately 150 minutes per week.
You can also get creative and start using stairs instead of lifts. You can also bike to work instead of driving. Adopting a dog can also help you get active and improve your health.
3. Lose weight
Obese and overweight people tend to have high levels of cholesterol. Losing weight can help lower your total cholesterol levels. Even losing five to ten pounds can make a difference.
One of the best ways to lose weight is to cut your daily calorie intake. The more calories you cut, the more weight you lose. Cutting 3,500 calories is enough to help you lose one pound.
You can do this by adopting a low-calorie diet. That means that you should replace junk foods in your diet with low-calorie foods like oats, eggs, lean meat, fish, legumes, berries, and chia seeds. You can also practice portion control and avoid alcohol and sugary drinks like soda.
The body converts excess calories into fats. You can also help your body utilize these calories by getting active. Physical activities help the body burn more calories. Dieting and regular exercises are the best way to lose weight faster.
4. Quit smoking
Vaping and smoking lower the level of good cholesterol. That leaves the body with less HPD to remove LPD from the blood. Quitting smoking and vaping will reduce your risks of developing hyperlipidemia, stroke, heart diseases, diabetes, and cancer. Quitting smoking can also prevent kidney disease, sexual dysfunction, ulcers, and reflux. If you don’t smoke, you should avoid secondhand smoke.
Quitting vaping and smoking is not an easy journey, but you can talk with a doctor about your goals. The doctor will prescribe some medications like Chantix that will help you stop smoking. You can also use nicotine patches to lessen the withdrawal effects.