Article Summary:Understanding the connection between cholesterol and heart disease, and what are the risk factors?
Cholesterol, like fat, cannot move around the bloodstream on its own because it does not mix with water. The bloodstream carries cholesterol in particles called lipoproteins that are like blood-borne cargo trucks delivering cholesterol to various body tissues to be used, stored or excreted. But too much of this circulating cholesterol can injure arteries, especially the coronary ones that supply the heart. This leads to accumulation of cholesterol-laden "plaque" in vessel linings, a condition called atherosclerosis.
When blood flow to the heart is impeded, the heart muscle becomes starved for oxygen, causing chest pain (angina). If a blood clot completely obstructs a coronary artery affected by atherosclerosis, a heart attack (myocardial infarction) or death can occur.
Are you at risk? Cardiovascular disease is still one of the greatest health problem affecting western countries. According to the American Heart Foundation, over 70 million Americans have cardiovascular disease (CVD). The national cost of is nearly $400 billion and every 45 seconds an American has a stoke.
Certain risk factors increase your chances of developing cardiovascular disease.
- High blood cholesterol
- Insufficient physical activity
- High blood pressure
- Excessive alcohol intake
Many people have multiple risk factors for heart disease and the level of risk increases with the number of risk factors. By reducing these risk factors you can largely prevent the onset of cardiovascular disease. On its own elevated blood cholesterol is not necessarily a problem, but coupled with one or more other risk factors for heart disease, it is often the straw that breaks the camel's back.
It is, therefore, very important to know what your cholesterol levels are and to keep them at a healthy level before you have any problems.
High risk cholesterol
If your total cholesterol level is 240 or more, it's definitely high. You have a higher risk of heart attack and stroke. In fact, you should have your LDL and HDL cholesterol tested. Ask your doctor for advice. Close to 20 percent of the U.S. population has high blood cholesterol levels.
People whose total cholesterol is 200 to 239 mg/dL have borderline-high cholesterol. About a third of American adults are in this group, while almost half of adults have total cholesterol levels below 200 mg/dL. In fact, people who have a total cholesterol of 240 mg/dL have twice the risk of coronary heart disease as people whose cholesterol level is 200 mg/dL. Does physical activity affect cholesterol?
Other factors that affect blood cholesterol levels:
Heredity - High cholesterol often runs in families. Even though specific genetic causes have been identified in only a minority of cases, genes still play a role in influencing blood cholesterol levels. If your parents have high cholesterol, you need to be tested to see if your cholesterol levels are also elevated.
Age and gender - Before menopause, women tend to have total cholesterol levels lower than men at the same age. Cholesterol levels naturally rise as men and women age. Menopause is often associated with increases in LDL cholesterol in women.
Stress - Studies have not shown stress to be directly inked to cholesterol levels. But experts say that because people sometimes eat fatty foods to console themselves when under stress, this can cause higher blood cholesterol.
Excess weight - Being overweight tends to increase blood cholesterol levels. Losing weight has been shown to help lower levels. A greater risk of increased cholesterol levels occurs when that extra weight is centered in the abdominal region, as opposed to the legs or buttocks.
Kim Beardsmore is an Independent Herbalife Distributor, weight loss coach and author of the online magazine Weight Loss Health. She has a Bachelor of Science degree, majoring in Biochemistry and Histology. For recipes, articles, a newsletter, and tips to burn fat, boost energy and block cravings, visit her website at weight-loss-health.com.au