Cholesterol is a term which alarms everyone, isn’t it? When the doctor talks about your cholesterol levels, it must be worrying you. It is right that excess cholesterol may cause harm but the right kind and amount of it will do good to your body. You do need some amount of it for the body to function well. So let us find out more about cholesterol.

The waxy, fatty substance found in the cells of the body is called cholesterol. Cholesterol is produced in the liver in our body. Cholesterol is found in animal foods like poultry, meat, fish, seafood and milk products.

What are the functions of cholesterol in the body?

  • They assist in the production of hormones such as testosterone, progesterone, estrogen, and the stress hormone, cortisol. These hormones are essential as they help the body to function in an efficient way.
  • Cholesterol aids in the process of digestion. The liver uses cholesterol to produce bile which helps in the digestion of fats.
  • Cholesterol helps in building the structure of cell membranes.
  • Cholesterol is required by the body as it helps in the production of Vitamin D.

What are the two kinds of cholesterol?

  • LDL cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein) — LDL cholesterol is believed to be the ‘bad’ cholesterol. When there is an excess of LDL in the blood, it leads to the formation of plaque and it can end up blocking the arteries. Due to the blocking of arteries, there is a high risk of heart disorders and stroke.
  • HDL cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein) — HDL cholesterol is known as the ‘good’ cholesterol. It plays a role in removing the LDL from the blood and carries it back to the liver. LDL is broken down in the liver and then it is removed from the body. Healthy ranges of HDL cholesterol lowers the risk of heart disorders, heart attacks and stroke. Low HDL ranges increase the risk of heart issues.

Cholesterol ranges for adults —

It is essential to maintain your cholesterol in a healthy range to prevent heart disorders. The ranges are mentioned below.

  • Total cholesterol levels should be less than 200 mg/ dl.
  • HDL cholesterol levels above 60 mg/dl are optimum.
  • LDL cholesterol levels should be lower than 100 mg/dl.

High blood cholesterol —

High blood cholesterol is caused when cholesterol levels are high enough to cause heart disorders. In this condition, the LDL cholesterol levels are elevated and the HDL cholesterol levels are not sufficient to do their job.

Often, there are no specific symptoms that are related to high cholesterol. It goes undetected many times which can cause health problems later. Blood tests is the way to find out your cholesterol levels. It is always advised to go for regular check-ups and keep your cholesterol levels in control.

What can cause high blood cholesterol?

These are the factors which are the reasons which can cause high cholesterol levels.

  • Unhealthy lifestyle
  • Unhealthy diet which has includes foods rich in fat
  • Lack of exercise
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Family history of hyperlipidemia
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes

How can you improve your cholesterol levels?

  • Lose weight — If you are overweight, lose weight. Being overweight or obese increases bad cholesterol and lowers good cholesterol levels. So it will be beneficial if you lose weight and be in the healthy weight range.

  • Exercise regularly — Physical activity is essential to keep yourself healthy. Regular exercise boosts the HDL cholesterol and decreases the LDL cholesterol levels. It would be helpful if you exercise for 30 minutes for at least 5 days a week.

  • Opt for healthy fats — Choose healthy fats such as unsaturated fats over unhealthy fats like saturated fats and trans fats. Saturated and trans fats can lower HDL cholesterol and raise LDL cholesterol levels. Unsaturated fats reduce the bad, LDL cholesterol, maintains high levels of good cholesterol and lowers the risk of heart disorders. Unsaturated fats are found in fatty fishes, nuts, seeds, avocados and plant-derived oils. Sources of saturated fats are poultry (with skin), pork, lamb, beef, butter, cheese, cream and ghee. Baked foods like cookies, pies and cakes, fried foods, frozen foods, margarine and vanaspati contain trans fats in them.

  • Quit Smoking — Smoking lowers HDL cholesterol levels and increases the risk of heart disorders. If you smoke, try to make an attempt to quit smoking.

  • Eat HDL boosting foods — Incorporate HDL boosting foods in your diet such as whole grains, nuts and seeds, fatty fishes like mackerel, salmon, herring, tuna, pulses and legumes, vegetables and fruits.

Eat healthy, exercise often to maintain healthy levels of your cholesterol and keep your heart healthy!