Published on January 3, 2024 at 18:47 / Updated on January 24, 2024 at 19:59

Cholesterol is a fatty compound essential to the body's proper functioning. We produce around 80% of cholesterol (via the liver) and consume 20% from our diet. The liver also plays a role in eliminating cholesterol. We often hear people talk about high or low cholesterol, but how can we tell if our cholesterol is high? That's what we're going to find out in this article.

Good and bad cholesterol

Since our cells need cholesterol, it has to be transported from the liver. Cholesterol transporters, which are made up of proteins called lipoproteins, act as shuttles between the liver and cells. LDL (low-density lipoproteins) carry cholesterol from the liver to the cells (outward journey), and HDL (high-density lipoproteins) carry cholesterol back to the liver (return journey) for elimination.

LDL is sometimes referred to as "bad cholesterol" because it carries cholesterol around the body, and HDL as "good cholesterol" because it helps eliminate it.

Causes and consequences of high cholesterol

The causes of excess cholesterol vary but are mainly genetic (too much cholesterol is produced by the liver) and a diet too rich in fats. Diabetes, lack of physical exercise, or heavy alcohol consumption are all causes of high cholesterol. When cholesterol levels are high over a long period of time, cholesterol builds up and creates plaques in the blood vessels, known as atherosclerosis. These plaques block the passage of blood, which can lead to a reduction in oxygen and other elements in the part of the body following the blockage. Sometimes, the blockage can even be total. This can lead to severe conditions, such as heart attacks, strokes and other blood circulation problems.

Normally, high cholesterol has no symptoms. Many people with serious conditions were unaware they had high cholesterol. The only way to know cholesterol levels in the body is to take blood samples and follow up with a doctor. It is mainly the levels of "bad cholesterol" (LDL) and "good cholesterol" as well as the amount of total cholesterol that healthcare providers will monitor. Doctors will try to limit the rise in "bad cholesterol," which deposits in the blood vessels, and optimize the level of "good cholesterol," which cleans the vessels.  A cholesterol blood test is recommended every 4 to 6 years for healthy people—and more often for those with high cholesterol.

How can I prevent high cholesterol?

Eating a balanced diet low in fat, especially saturated fat, is a very effective way to achieve good cardiovascular health. Cholesterol is found in animal products such as meat, dairy products, and eggs. Foods rich in saturated fats and cholesterol include butter, cream, saturated oils, processed foods (sausages, cold meats, etc.), and commercial pastries (cookies, cakes, etc.). It is strongly recommended to limit consumption of these foods. 

However, eating foods low in saturated fat and cholesterol is ideal. Examples of foods low in or free of cholesterol and saturated fat are fruits and vegetables, lean meats (fish, skinless chicken and turkey, lean cuts of beef, pork and other meats, etc.).

It's also important to stay active daily. Professionals suggest moderate physical activity of 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week. One trick to help you easily reach this goal is to accumulate this time gradually over the course of a day. For example, a brisk walk in the morning, a short run in the afternoon, and a short walk in the evening. Physical activity helps to lower LDL ("bad") cholesterol and simultaneously raises HDL ("good") cholesterol levels.

What's more, if you smoke, it's important to quit. Cigarettes don't contribute directly to cholesterol levels, but they do exacerbate underlying conditions, such as the risk of a heart attack and stroke.

Cholesterol treatment

In some cases, a doctor will prescribe a cholesterol-lowering treatment. It is important to follow the instructions carefully and take the treatment as prescribed. These treatments can significantly reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and protect the heart from the consequences of high cholesterol levels.

Talk to your Familiprix-affiliated pharmacists about heart health and cholesterol levels. Did you know pharmacists can even manage dyslipidemia (high cholesterol)? Pharmacists can support you throughout your treatment and suggest the best alternatives for you. 

Here are some other reliable resources to help you learn more about your heart's health:

https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/heart-health/high-cholesterol/signs-symptoms-high-cholesterol.html

https://www.ottawaheart.ca/heart-condition/high-cholesterol

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