WARNING! High cholesterol can lead to stroke, heart attack

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As the doctor points out, A fat-like waxy substance made by your liver and partly absorbed from food, cholesterol is required for making cell membranes, insulation of your nerves, and for making hormones and vitamins. However when bad cholesterol builds up and clogs arteries, it can be fatal and can lead to stroke and heart attack.

Cardiovascular diseases are responsible for 18.6 million deaths annually, says Dr Mohit Tandon, Consultant Non-Invasive Cardiologist, Fortis Escorts Hospital, Okhla – New-Delhi, adding that it is the cause of 75% of deaths in low- and middle-income countries, including India. While there are several risk factors, high cholesterol is an important one. Let’s find out what’s cholesterol, how it impacts heart health and steps that should be taken to keep cholesterol levels in check.

What is Cholesterol?

A fat-like waxy substance made by your body (liver) and partly absorbed from food, cholesterol is required for making cell membranes, insulation of your nerves, and for making hormones and vitamins, says Dr Tandon. However, when it’s in excess – bad cholesterol or LDL (low-density lipoprotein) can get deposited in your arteries causing heart attacks and strokes.

How cholesterol affects the heart

Cholesterol consists primarily of HDL (high-density lipoprotein), which is considered good cholesterol, and LDL (low-density lipoprotein) which is considered bad cholesterol. HDL helps to keep your arteries clear of the cholesterol buildup process called atherosclerosis. Meanwhile, LDL or bad cholesterol builds up in the walls of your arteries, making them hard and narrow. These arteries are connected to your heart and brain, and an interrupted blood supply can cause heart attacks and strokes, points out Dr Tandon. The buildup happens slowly over a period and therefore screening by blood test becomes important, he adds. The test used to detect cholesterol is known as Lipid profile.

What should be your ideal cholesterol level?

Dr Tandon points out:

Total cholesterol < 200 is desirable

HDL > 60 is desirable and protective

LDL < 100 is optimal

Triglycerides < 150 is optimal

In some people with genetic disorders and very high levels of cholesterol, cholesterol deposition can occur over joint areas and skin, around the eyes.

What affects cholesterol levels and how to keep your heart healthy

Dr Mohit Tandon tells us the different factors that affect cholesterol levels in the blood and steps to take to keep one’s heart healthy:

Diet: Foods that are deep-fried, prepared in hydrogenated or solid oils, non-veg foods consisting of fats, and processed carbohydrates, all tend to increase LDL and triglycerides. While green leafy vegetables, whole grains, and a fruit-filled diet decrease LDL.

Exercise: Regular exercise at least 5 days a week – either 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise – helps increase HDL and decrease LDL, thereby decreasing your risk of heart diseases. Do not be a couch potato.

Weight: In obese people, losing weight helps optimise their cholesterol levels and also cuts the risk of having future heart diseases and diabetes.

Age and Gender: As we age, our cholesterol levels tend to rise with a decline in HDL; in women, especially post menopause, the difference is evident, and therefore living a healthy lifestyle, eating clean, and undergoing health checkups as we age becomes more important.

Heredity: Sometimes high cholesterol may run in families and it may be responsible for an early heart attack or family history of heart attacks and may be detected on screening or testing of cholesterol levels. Such persons should seek medical care as they need to be started on cholesterol-lowering drugs.

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