To maintain good health, balanced cholesterol levels are quite important. The liver is an organ that detoxifies drugs and other foreign substances. It also stores glycogen, which the body utilizes for energy. Other important functions of the liver include metabolizing carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. It also produces cholesterol in the body.
Although cholesterol may often be regarded as potentially harmful to the body, it is actually needed for the production of hormones, digestive enzymes, and vitamin D. Complex particles called lipoproteins carry cholesterol all throughout the body. There are two important types of lipoproteins: high-density lipoproteins (HDL) and low-density lipoproteins (LDL). The relative proportion of protein to fat in the lipoprotein is indicated by the terms high and low. Both of these lipoprotein types are needed by the body in regulated proportions.
In this article, we will focus on low-density lipoprotein (LDL), which is also often called bad cholesterol.
Elevated LDL Levels
LDL carries cholesterol to the arteries, and if LDL cholesterol levels are elevated, LDL can build up on the arterial walls. This buildup is called a cholesterol plaque, which can limit the flow of blood, narrow the arteries, and increase the risk of developing blood clots. A stroke or heart attack can happen if a blood clot blocks an artery in the brain or heart. More than one-third of American adults have increased LDL cholesterol levels according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Identifying LDL levels
Carrying out a blood test would help in measuring a person's cholesterol levels, including LDL.
For 19 years old and younger:
- The first cholesterol test should be carried out at ages 9-11 eleven years old.
- Children should be tested once in every five years.
- Children can be tested as early as 2 years old if there is a family history of high blood pressure, heart attack, high cholesterol levels, or stroke.
For 20 years old and above:
- Young adults should be tested once in every five years.
- Men who fall in the age bracket of 45-65 years old and women who are 55-65 years old should be tested every 1-2 years.
A rise in LDL levels can lead to an increased risk of coronary artery disease and other related chronic medical conditions.
The optimal level of LDL is less than 100 mg/dL. When it rises and reaches in between 100-129 mg/dL then it is categorized as above optimal or near optimal level. An LDL level that falls between 130-159 mg/dL is borderline high and having an LDL level of 160-189 mg/dL is categorized as high. When the LDL level reaches 190 mg/dL and above, it is considered as very high.
LDL Test Results
Elevated levels of LDL also increases the risk of heart disease. However, doctors and patients can work together to develop specific strategies to effectively reduce LDL levels to a specific number. In most cases, the approach is based on the patient's risk of developing heart disease and stroke. Doctors often use a calculator to estimate the patient's chances of such conditions in the next decade. The doctor usually considers the following contributing factors:
- Blood pressure
- Cholesterol level
- Blood pressure medications
- Smoking habits
- A family history of heart disease
Factors That Affect LDL Levels
Below are several factors that can affect LDL levels:
- Smoking: Smoking can lower HDL levels. Since HDL helps in removing bad cholesterol from the arteries, if you have low levels of HDL in the blood, then it can turn out to be a contributing factor for a rise in LDL levels.
- Diet: An increase in the intake of foods that contain high cholesterol and saturated fat would also bring about a rise in the level of LDL.
- Use of Medications: The use of steroids, blood pressure medications, as well as drugs for HIV/AIDS, are all known to have a side effect of increasing LDL levels.
- Sedentary Lifestyle: Having a sedentary lifestyle is the opposite of being active. Exercising is very important for our overall health. A lack of daily physical activities can lead to an unhealthy weight gain and a rise in the levels of LDL.
- Genetics: Genes also partly determine how much cholesterol the body would be making. Some people may have high cholesterol levels no matter what they do because of a strong family history of high cholesterol levels. An example would be familial hypercholesterolemia, which is a genetic disorder that causes high LDL levels.
- Age and Gender: As people get older, cholesterol levels may also start to abnormally increase. At the time of menopause, women are prone to have elevated LDL levels compared to men of the same age.
- Race: Certain races have an increased risk of developing high blood cholesterol. An example would be African Americans who are prone to developing an increase in both LDL and HDL levels in the blood when compared to Whites.
- Other Medical Issues: LDL levels can also be triggered by certain medical conditions, such as diabetes, HIV/AIDS, and kidney disease.
How to lower LDL levels?
There are two main methods to help lower LDL levels in an individual:
1. TLC or Therapeutic Lifestyle Change
This method is further subdivided into three different parts:
- Weight Management: Being overweight or obese increases the risk of developing high LDL levels. Losing weight through healthy ways can significantly help lower the levels of LDL and keep other health problems at bay.
- Healthy Diet: It is always important to check what you eat. Consume a heart-healthy diet and keep away from processed foods that are high in sugar, saturated fats, and trans fat. Try to cook meals at home and avoid eating fast food as much as possible.
- Physical Activity: Apart from healthy eating and weight management, it is also important to have regular physical activities. People should have at least 120 minutes of physical activity on a weekly basis. Physical activities may include a mix of cardio, strength training, yoga, and many more. On days when you are unable to carry out exercises, going out for a walk or a run would also help in keeping the body active.
If a healthy lifestyle, healthy eating, and exercise are not enough, doctors may suggest taking medications to lower the levels of LDL. Statins are drugs that help prevent the body to make cholesterol. Other medications can lower the amount of cholesterol the body gets from food intake. Individuals who cannot take statins and those who have severe high cholesterol levels can take drugs that can be taken as a shot instead of a pill.