With the emphasis many medical experts place on cholesterol levels, you must be wondering what the fuss is all about. The reason is not far-fetched. Before we go into anything else, what is cholesterol?
Cholesterol occurs naturally as a waxy, fat-like substance in the body cells. Although it is frequently associated with several heart and blood vessel diseases, cholesterol is a vital component for producing body hormones and bile acids.
Cholesterol is present in varying quantities in all the food we eat, but several foods such as eggs, sardines, full-fat yogurt, and cheese contain more cholesterol.
Types of Cholesterol
Cholesterol is classified based on the type of lipoprotein by which it is distributed through the body.
Lipoproteins are tiny particles comprising fat and proteins and serve as channels for distributing cholesterol through your body.
Although there are five kinds of lipoprotein, only two serve as channels for the distribution of cholesterol in the body.
- High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL) and Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL).
High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL)
Commonly known as “good cholesterol,” HDL carries cholesterol to the liver, which filters it out of the body as waste. As HDL helps rid your body of excess cholesterol, it is less likely to build fatty deposits that lead to heart failure or other health risks.
Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL)
This type of cholesterol requires careful handling. It is known as “bad cholesterol” for a reason. It deposits cholesterol directly on the artery walls leading to a buildup of plaques that obstruct blood flow. The LDL is the primary cause of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, leading to heart attacks, strokes, and peripheral vascular disease.
Healthy Cholesterol Levels
It is possible to check your cholesterol levels with a standard lipid test. You could also use a home doctor service for a more comprehensive approach to reducing your cholesterol levels.
Cholesterol level is measured in mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter) and is a combination of Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL) levels, High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL) levels, and triglyceride levels. The recommended cholesterol level is 200 mg/dL, of which the LDL level should be less than 100mg/dL. However, it is advisable to strive for LDL levels below 50mg/dL in individuals at greater risk of cardiovascular illnesses.
As problems resulting from high cholesterol levels usually develop over time, it is advisable to take lipid tests once every five years if you are over 20 years of age.
Why Does Cholesterol Matter More in Women?
Many women are at risk of high cholesterol, and they don’t even know it. Why? It is because women have a higher HDL cholesterol level because of the female sex hormone, estrogen. This hormone boosts good cholesterol production, but some certain factors could change this. These factors are:
- Early menopause
The average age at natural menopause varies by genetics, nutrition, smoking, and menarche age. Menopause is associated with a progressive increase in LDL cholesterol and decreased HDL cholesterol. Total cholesterol levels peak in women at 55-65 years of age, which increases the risk of heart disease. There are other risks involved around the time of menopause, such as
- A rise in blood pressure
- Increase in triglycerides
- Increase in fat accumulation around the waist
This condition is the loss of normal ovary functions before 40. Early menopause is relatively rare. Some common symptoms may include; irregular periods, absence of period, night sweat, and many others. Early menopause could occur as a result of either follicle depletion or follicle dysfunction and is dependent on factors such as:
- Family history
- Genetic disorders
- Autoimmune conditions
Early menopause leads to complications in women such as:
- Infertility: Women who go through early menopause cannot get pregnant.
- Stress, Anxiety, and Depression: Reduced estrogen hormone levels could result in stress symptoms in women.
- Bone Loss: Early menopause makes women more prone to developing bone fractures
- Heart Disease: Women who experience premature menopause are at an increased risk of heart disease.
Cholesterol increases by as much as 25 to 50% throughout pregnancy and peaks during the second trimester. This increase in cholesterol levels is due to the body’s attempt to supply nutrients for the growing fetus and the necessary steroid hormones needed to see a pregnancy to its term. Low levels of cholesterol during pregnancy could result in significantly lower birth weight.
However, high cholesterol levels during pregnancy could lead to pregnancy-induced hypertension, premature birth, and gestational diabetes. It also puts unborn children at the risk of atherosclerosis when they eventually come of age.
What Influences Cholesterol Levels?
Although cholesterol is a naturally occurring substance produced by our body, our cholesterol level is dependent on several factors. These factors include:
Cholesterol levels are significantly higher in older individuals.
Women have higher levels of cholesterol due to the sex hormone, estrogen.
Our cholesterol levels also depend on habits such as alcohol consumption, smoking, exercise, or its lack.
How to Reduce Cholesterol Naturally
Although cholesterol levels are dependent on various factors; There are steps you can take to maintain safe cholesterol levels.
- Eat food containing lots of fiber
- Exercise regularly
- Avoid trans fat
- Quit smoking
Keeping your cholesterol levels below safe limits is not as difficult as you imagine. You could start by adopting a healthy lifestyle and be more mindful of the food you consume. Finally, you could seek expert medical advice to ensure that you are taking the appropriate measures.