What is Cholesterol?Cholesterol is an organic chemical substance classified as a waxy steroid of fat. It is a fat (lipid) which is produced by the liver and is crucial for normal body functioning. Cholesterol is an essential structural component of mammalian cell membranes and is required to establish proper membrane permeability and fluidity. Cholesterol exists in the outer layer of every cell in our body and has multiple functions. In addition to its importance within cells, cholesterol is an important component in the hormonal systems of the body to manufacture bile acids, steroid hormones, and vitamin D. In vertebrates, it is formed predominantly in the liver. However, it is important and necessary for human health, high levels in the blood can damage arteries and result in cardiovascular disease.
Different Functions of Cholesterol
- Builds, maintains cell membranes and prevents crystallization of hydrocarbons in the membrane.
- Essential to determine cell membrane permeability.
- Involved in the production of androgens and estrogens.
- Essential for the production of hormones released by the adrenal glands.
- Aids in production of bile juice.
- Helps production of vitamin D with sunshine.
- Important for metabolism of fat-soluble vitamins, like vitamins A, D, E, and K.
- Insulates nerve fibers.
Different Types of Cholesterol
Largely, cholesterol has three types - LDL (low-density lipoproteins), HDL (high-density lipoproteins), and triglycerides. LDL is known as bad cholesterol as it can lead to blockage of arteries, hindering flow of blood to/from heart, which, in turn, results in failure of vital organs, like kidneys, liver, brain, genitals, etc. Excess of LDL can also result in various heart disorders. On the other hand, HDL is known as good cholesterol as it carries the unused cholesterol back to the liver.
Where LDL can increase the risk of arterial disease if levels rise too high, HDL can prevent arterial disease. HDL takes the cholesterol away from the cells and back to the liver. In liver, it is either broken down or expelled from the body as waste.
Triglycerides are the chemical forms in which most of the fat exists in the body. Triglycerides are present in the blood plasma. These originate either from the fats in our food or are made in the body from other energy sources, such as carbohydrates. Calories that we consume, but are not used immediately by our tissues, are converted into triglycerides and stored in fat cells. When body needs energy and there is no food available, triglycerides get released from fat cells and provide energy. The process is control by hormones.
The amount of cholesterol in human blood can vary from 3.6 mmol per liter to 7.8 mmol per liter. Per National Health Service, UK, anything over 6 mmol/liter is high and significantly raises the risk of arterial disease. Desirable levels of LDL cholesterol are less than 200 mg/dL; anywhere between 200 to 239 mg/dL depict borderline high levels, and anything about 240 mg/dL is considered high. Following are the risks associated with high levels of cholesterol:
- Higher risk of coronary heart disease
- Risk of cardiac arrest
- Other diseases of heart and blood vessels
In case levels of cholesterol and triglyceride are high, the risk of developing coronary heart disease rises significantly.
Different Causes of High Cholesterol?
Following are the major causes of high cholesterol:
While some foods like eggs, seafood, etc. contain cholesterol, these does not have much of an impact on blood cholesterol levels, but saturated fats put a significant impact on blood cholesterol levels in humans. Foods that are high in saturated fats, like red meat, sausages, hard cheese, pastries, cakes, most biscuits, cream, etc. can cause rise in blood cholesterol levels. (there are many more).
People leading a sedentary lifestyle and do not exercise on a regular basis usually have significantly higher levels of LDL (bad cholesterol) and lower levels of HDL (good cholesterol).
Excessive Body Weight
Obese and overweight people are much more likely to have higher LDL levels and lower HDL levels, compared to the ones who have normal body weight.
Excessive smoking can result in shooting up of levels of LDL cholesterol, which, in turn, can cause adverse effects on the heart and other vital organs.
Regular and excessive consumption of alcohol can lead to rise in levels of LDL cholesterol and decrease in levels of HDL cholesterol. On the other hand, moderate and occasional drinking keeps LDL cholesterol within normal limits and keeps healthy level of HDL cholesterol.
Symptoms of High Cholesterol
A condition with high LDL cholesterol is also known as hypercholesterolaemia. Some of the common symptoms of hypercholesterolemia are as under:
- Narrowed coronary arteries in the heart leading to occasional pain in the chest area.
- Experiencing pain in legs while exercising, because arteries that supply blood to legs have narrowed.
- Instances of blood clots and ruptured blood vessels, which can eventually lead to a stroke or mini-stroke.
- Ruptured plaques - this can lead to coronary thrombosis, which can eventually result in heart failure.
- Xanthomas - thick yellow patches on the skin, especially around the eyes. These parches are actually deposits of cholesterol. This can be inherited hypercholesterolemia.
Home Remedies for Cholesterol
Following are some home remedies to keep a check over levels of cholesterol.
Vitamin E prevents the arteries from blocking and hardening. Regular consumption of vitamin E can prevent formation of LDL cholesterol in body and maintain good levels of HDL cholesterol. Recommended daily are 400 international units of vitamin E as a dietary supplement to keep a check on cholesterol levels.
Vitamin C helps increase good cholesterol and lower the level of LDL cholesterol in the body. Regular consumption as dietary supplement can keep a check on cholesterol levels. It can also be obtained from citric fruits like oranges, lemons, Indian gooseberry, etc. Try to include vitamin C rich food in the diet.
Garlic has been found to have properties that reduce levels of LDL cholesterol. It has been used since ages to have a healthier heart. Rather, garlic is world-renowned for its medicinal properties. In case one cannot withstand its smell, it can be taken in the form of capsules. Recommended daily are 5-7 cloves of garlic in food or wholly to maintain good levels of HDL cholesterol and control levels of LDL cholesterol.
Skin of grapes can help keep cholesterol under control. Grapes contain a compound that has been found to reduce levels of LDL cholesterol. Grapes, even eaten wholly, help reduce the LDL levels and maintain HDL levels in body. In addition to this, grapefruit is also known for its medicinal properties to treat cholesterol levels. Regular consumption of grapefruit lowers LDL cholesterol. It can be taken everyday for best results. Results, however, start appearing in nearly two months.
All the leguminous beans have been found to have properties to reduce LDL cholesterol. In addition to this, regular consumption of beans can enhance the levels of HDL cholesterol, resulting in healthy heart and body. In fact, regular consumption of only two cups of beans can reduce LDL levels by nearly 22%.
Cinnamon tea has many medicinal properties. It has also been found to have compounds that keep the bad (LDL) cholesterol away. Regular intake of cinnamon tea can help maintain a good balance in cholesterol levels.
Coriander seeds have been found to reduce levels of LDL cholesterol, if taken on a regular basis. Just boil one tablespoonful of coriander seeds in two cups of water and consume once a day; it will help reduce bad cholesterol.
Fish Oil Capsules
Fish oil capsules contain essential omega-3 fatty acids which inhibit the production of LDL cholesterol. These compounds also promote the production of HDL cholesterol in the body. Therefore, taking 1-2 fish oil capsules daily before going to bed can help reduce LDL levels considerably. It also helps lower triglycerides.
Like garlic, onion also has compounds that promote production of HDL cholesterol and inhibit production of the bad variety (LDL). Just mix some onion juice in a glass of water and have on a regular basis. It will keep a check on LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Also, onion juice helps in blood purification, blood circulation, and proper functioning of heart. It is also beneficial for people suffering from insomnia.
Olive oil has medicinal properties to keep heart healthy. Instead of any other oil, use olive oil for cooking; it will keep a check on cholesterol levels. Just mix little amount of olive oil in green leafy salads and see the magic. It does wonders in reducing the high level of cholesterol. It is one of the best home remedies to reduce LDL cholesterol.
Foods that are rich in fiber contain compounds that keep heart healthy by reducing LDL levels. In addition to this, fiber-rich foods keep stomach clean and appropriately functioning. Patients with high cholesterol are recommended to eat green leafy vegetable and fiber rich food as fibers play important role in lowering both the cholesterol and high blood pressure levels.
Bran cereals are high in fiber and essential nutrients. These cereals keep the digestive system appropriate and inhibit formation of LDL cholesterol. Bran cereals or corn flakes should be taken in the morning along with milk. These are good source of energy and play vital role in the lowering excessive cholesterol.
Sunflower seeds contain linoleic acid, which is helpful in decreasing the level of cholesterol around the blood capillaries, which aids normal blood circulation throughout the body. Instead of saturated fats, butter, and other oils, use sunflower seed oil for cooking food. Other oils which can benefit heart are soya-bean oil and sesame oil.
Drinking enough water not only helps in reducing the levels of cholesterol, but also clears all the toxic and unwanted material stored within our body. Therefore, it is recommended to drink at least 8 to 10 glasses of water everyday.
Apple is one of the most useful fruits used as a home remedy for treatment of different diseases. Apple is also beneficial in reducing the LDL cholesterol and purifying blood. Just take 10 to 12 tablespoons of apple juice and add 5 to 6 tablespoons of vinegar extracted from grape juice into it. The concoction proves to be highly beneficial in reducing the high cholesterol and purifying blood. Consume twice a day on a regular basis for best results.
It is one of the best home remedies to reduce high level of cholesterol. Just soak 1-2 teaspoonful of methi seeds in water overnight. Next, strain the mixture and drink it first thing in the morning. Not only it reduces the cholesterol level, but also purifies blood and solves other stomach-related disease, if any.
Consume only red part of carrot whenever possible. Carrots have been found to reduce levels of LDL cholesterol. Eating a couple of carrots (only red part) per day can start to show benefits within 4 to 6 weeks. It can reduce the cholesterol levels by up to 20%.
Preventive Measures for Cholesterol
Brisk walk, jogging, and exercising are the best ways to burn extra calories and reduce high cholesterol. Exercises help in weight control, proper blood circulation, and proper functioning of different body systems. Therefore, it is recommended to exercise on a regular basis (as tolerated) to maintain good cholesterol levels.
Different yogas for reducing cholesterol are vinyasa, hatha, and kundalini. These yoga asanaas not only burn unwanted cholesterol, but also help increase the HDL cholesterol.
Start your day with a healthy breakfast. People who skip their breakfast have been found to have high cholesterol levels. Prefer cereals to put yourself at lower risk of getting a heart disease. Starting your day with healthy breakfast also has many other benefits from the health point of view. Eat food items that are good for lowering cholesterol and are rich in fiber.
Maintain Appropriate Weight
If you are overweight, make losing weight your first priority. Losing weight will help you bring your cholesterol levels to normal.
Avoid Oily/Salty Food
Avoid oily and salty food items completely. Also, bakery products like cookies, crackers and snack cakes contain trans fat that is not good for heart. Therefore, it is advised to stay away from any such item.
Other Treatment Methods for Cholesterol
Lifestyle is one of the major factors that decides whether you are at risk of a diseases or not. An aggressive and active lifestyle can help you get the cholesterol and triglyceride levels back to normal. One only needs to keep in mind following points:
- Exercise on a regular basis. One can start with mild walking and exercising and increase as tolerated. To consult your doctor before going into any kind of regime.
- Consume fibrous fruits, green leafy vegetables, whole grains, oats, and good quality fats to reduce chances of getting a cardiac disease.
- Avoid fast foods. Most of the fast foods contain saturated fats that are extremely harmful for the body. Therefore, it is recommended to avoid such food items.
- Maintain appropriate body weight. Being overweight or underweight straightaway puts at risk of disease. Make sure you bring your body weight back to normal, in case it isn't.
- Avoid smoking and alcohol. Regular smoking and consumption of alcohol are big factors that increase levels of cholesterol. Cutting back on smoking and alcohol can help a great deal in lowering bad cholesterol levels.
If cholesterol levels continue to remain elevated despite exercising and following a strict dietary regime, your doctor might put you on some cholesterol-lowering medications. Depending upon your levels of cholesterol or blockage, if any, your doctor will prescribe the medication. Your medications may include the following:
Statins are useful for the treatment and prevention of atherosclerosis. Side effects can include constipation, headaches, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. Some examples of statins are atorvastatin, fluvastatin, lovastatin, pravastatin, rosuvastatin, simvastatin, etc.
These are fibric acid derivatives, including gemfibrozil, fenofibrate, clofibrate, etc. and help to reduce triglyceride levels.
It brings down both LDL and HDL levels. Side effects can include itching, headaches, hot flashes, and tingling.
Bile Acid Sequestrants
These drugs bind with cholesterol-containing bile acids in the intestines and allow them to be eliminated in the stool. Bile acid sequestrants may lower LDL cholesterol by about 10%-20%. These are sometimes prescribed with a statin to enhance cholesterol reduction. Some examples of bile acid sequestrants are cholestyramine (Questran, Questran Light), colestipol (Colestid), and colesevelam (WelChol).