Cholesterol is usually used interchangeably with fat and that’s because they have a lot of similarities in terms of how they contribute to putting someone at risk for certain health issues. However, cholesterol is actually present in your body whether or not you consume it.
The Science Behind Cholesterol
Cholesterol is a waxy substance that cells can carry throughout your body. This is not necessarily bad. Because some level of cholesterol is essential to your body’s production of hormones, vitamins, and digestive substances. In fact, your body produces cholesterol for all these functions.
Cholesterol is carried throughout your bloodstream in the form of lipoproteins. Lipoproteins are cholesterol attached to proteins and depending on what protein the lipoprotein is made with, the type of cholesterol is determined.
The cholesterol we view to be negative or “bad” cholesterol is low-density lipoprotein (LDL) which moves cholesterol throughout the body to build up on artery walls. This buildup makes the arteries narrow and rigid which isn’t ideal for proper circulation.
High-density lipoprotein (HDL), on the other hand, is the “good” cholesterol because it picks up the excess fat and cholesterol to take it to your liver. This avoids the buildup of cholesterol to preempt possible complications with circulation problems.
How Does High Cholesterol Affect the Body?
Cholesterol, in excess, allows plaque, a kind of fatty deposit, to build up along the walls of blood vessels. This is especially risky when the plaque builds up in essential veins and arteries like the coronary artery or the carotid arteries. These arteries supply oxygen to your brain and heart, respectively.
These potential complications on circulation then contribute to high cholesterol being a risk factor for coronary heart disease. This puts high cholesterol alongside high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, and obesity.
The amount of cholesterol in your body is shown in the lipid profile that measures triglycerides. This reflects how at-risk you could be for heart disease.
The Connection Between Cholesterol and Stroke
The relationship between high cholesterol and stroke is complicated because there are different types of cholesterol and different types of strokes.
Ischemic stroke is caused by the blockage of blood flow and complications with circulation. Because of the similar causes, it has the same risk factors as coronary heart disease but the specific brevity of the contribution of high cholesterol to ischemic strokes is unknown.
The other kind of stroke is a hemorrhagic stroke which happens when a blood vessel ruptures and bleeds into the brain. Because of cholesterol’s likelihood to make the blood vessels more rigid, cholesterol could actually reduce the risk for hemorrhagic stroke.
As mentioned above, LDL harms the heart and brain due to its contributions to arterial plaque development. Concentrations above 130 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) are linked to susceptibility to ischemic strokes.
However, HDL at levels above 35 mg/dL helps the body deliver LDL to the liver and taking them out of the bloodstream to stabilize existing deposits. The ideal HDL level is around 60 mg/dL. Below 35 mg/dL, HDL cannot bring LDL to the liver which causes a deficit to become a stroke risk as well.
Because of this, the best approach to reducing stroke risk is making good lifestyle choices and regulating cholesterol.
Causes of High Cholesterol
- Obesity. Obesity or having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 and above.
- An unhealthy diet or eating a lot of saturated and trans fats
- Inactivity or a lack of exercise all contribute to high LDL levels and low HDL levels
- Smoking also lowers HDL levels and damages the walls of blood vessels that makes them more prone to accumulate cholesterol and deposits.
- Family history could also be an indication of the risk along with the age.
What are the Symptoms of High Cholesterol?
High cholesterol doesn’t necessarily have symptoms. However, anything that can indicate an unhealthy intake of high cholesterol food could be a symptom of cholesterol levels. Hence, some high cholesterol “symptoms” are fatigue and obesity.
Conversely, symptoms for heart disease that you are at risk for due to cholesterol levels like heart disease could also serve as “symptoms”. High cholesterol “symptoms” on the skin can manifest due to heart disease like yellowish-orange growths that reflect cholesterol deposits under the skin.
Since these are not direct symptoms, the only way to identify if you have high cholesterol levels is a blood test.
A visit to the doctor should be enough for them to identify if you could be at risk. Routine tests are done once at childhood, between 9 to 11 years old, once at young adulthood, between 17 to 19 years old, and at least every five years for adults that are not at risk.
If you are at risk or have a history of high cholesterol levels or heart disease and its risk factors, the intervals between testing could be shorter.
In the end, the best approach is always the most holistic one. In making better life choices and preempting possible complications caused by high cholesterol and stroke, you can work towards your ideal health.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.