How Common is High Cholesterol?

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Courtesy of Nick Youngson

There is an epidemic of high cholesterol in the U.S.

Teresa Feng

High cholesterol, or hypercholesterolemia, is caused by high levels of low-density lipoprotein(LDL). High levels of LDL can result in blood clots in arteries, which can lead to or increase the chances of heart disease and stroke. However, high cholesterol is a risk that can be controlled, with a properly managed diet, exercise, and medical guidance and medication. 

According to Healthline, “If your blood contains too much LDL cholesterol (cholesterol carried by low-density lipoprotein), it’s known as high cholesterol.” The two types of lipoprotein, low density lipoprotein(LDL) and high density lipoprotein(HDL) carry cholesterol through the bloodstream, as cholesterol does not dissolve in water. However, too much LDL cholesterol is harmful because LDL carries cholesterol to the arteries, which means that high LDL cholesterol levels can lead to buildup of on the walls of the arteries, also known as cholesterol plaque. This can limit blood flow in the arteries, and raise the likelihood of blood clots, which can block an artery, and cause heart attacks or strokes. Therefore, low-density lipoprotein is often called “bad cholesterol”, due to the risk that high levels of LDL have. 

A common misunderstanding regarding high cholesterol is that those with high cholesterol are solely to blame, because it is caused by a poor, high fat diet. While a fatty diet can result in high cholesterol, there are many cases where high cholesterol is genetic, and inherited by family. Regardless of the cause, it is best to seek medical assistance, because a positive aspect of high cholesterol is that it is a risk that can be controlled. Another misunderstanding is that diet plays the greatest role in controlling cholesterol. While it does play a role, Everyday Health states “In addition to getting cholesterol from dietary sources like meat and dairy, our bodies make cholesterol, too”. Therefore, regulating cholesterol levels within the body is essential in addition to managing cholesterol intake, and can be achieved through regular exercise, and proper medical advice. 

It is very possible to live well with high cholesterol. While sticking to a diet of health food such as whole grains and okra  is proven to lower LDL levels, it can be extremely difficult, or even unrealistic, to stick to such a strict diet. Substituting foods that are harmful to those with high cholesterol can be a simple first step without reducing the type of food entirely. For example, all purpose flour raises cholesterol levels in the bloodstream, and too much can result in a fatty liver. However, replacing all purpose four with oat flour, or almond flour, which are both proven to be beneficial for high cholesterol, can reduce the amount of fatty foods consumed. Incorporating such food alternatives may sound unappetizing and difficult at the beginning, but once they are in the house and completely swapped out, reaching for the more beneficial alternatives becomes a more familiar move, and one that can lower the risk of cholesterol related health risks. However, there is an importance of being careful with misleading advertising, or products that are of a lesser quality, and therefore bring less health benefits. Referring to the flour alternatives once again, oat flour and almond flour are simply ground up oats and almonds, respectively, and therefore do not include any add ons or extra ingredients that take away from the nutritional value. For example, flour may be labeled almond flour, when it is actually almond flavored flour, or some other product. 

Other methods of living with high cholesterol involve having regular cholesterol level checkups, because it is not uncommon for high cholesterol to have no noticeable symptoms, but still drastically damage one’s health. An essential step is to seek medical advice, obtain proper medication, and receive medical checkups even after being diagnosed with high cholesterol to constantly have updated information regarding cholesterol levels, and information about how to manage it. 

High cholesterol is something to take seriously, due to the fact that it can contribute to or cause detrimental health risks, such as heart attacks and strokes. However, living with high cholesterol does not have to be painfully challenging, as several simple steps can be taken to reduce cholesterol levels, and the effect that high cholesterol has on the body.