High cholesterol level or hypercholesterolemia is a condition where levels of cholesterol in the bloodstream are higher that normal. Individuals are strongly advised to maintain less than 200 mg of cholesterol for every deciliter of blood. Anything higher than 240 mg/dL of blood is considered hypercholesterolemia and this increases the risk of developing plaques that accumulates in the heart blood vessels causing them to narrow and thicken and can later on result to severe problems.
Contrary to popular beliefs, hypercholesterolemia isn’t caused by high-cholesterol diet alone – it is a combination and interaction of different factors. Some of these factors are controllable and very much related to one’s lifestyle like diet, weight, physical activity level, stress, smoking and alcohol intake while age, gender, family history and heredity, and race are among the uncontrollable factors which also play important roles in cholesterol management. Let us take a look at how these things affect our cholesterol level.
- AGE. As people grow older their risk of developing hypercholesterolemia increases. Women over 55 and men over 45 years of age are at greater risk compared to their younger counterparts.
- GENDER. By nature, men are more predisposed to high cholesterol than women. Prior to a woman’s menopause, she normally has lower level of total cholesterol than men of same age groups. It’s not until she reaches menopause or the age of 55 that her cholesterol level increases naturally.
- FAMILY HISTORY & HEREDITY. Your genes partly determine your risks for a number of conditions and diseases and this includes your risk of having high cholesterol. You are more genetically predisposed to hypercholesterolemia if a member of your immediate family have high cholesterol level or associated problems like heart diseases at a young age of 55.
- RACE. Just like familial history and heredity, your race can also partly predetermine your cholesterol risks. For instance, in the US, African Americans are more prone to develop hypercholesterolemia than Caucasians.
- DIET. The liver manufactures about 80% of the body’s cholesterol while the other 20% comes from the food we eat. If you consume a lot of cholesterol rich food like meat and fatty food, then it will follow that your cholesterol level will also be higher. You should eat more heart-healthy foods like fruits, veggies and whole grains to offset the accumulation.
- ACTIVITY LEVEL. Inactive people or those living a very sedentary lifestyle have higher risk in having higher cholesterol. Regular exercise helps in boosting your HDLs (good cholesterol) thus decreasing your LDL level (bad cholesterol).
- WEIGHT. Naturally if you are overweight you have higher cholesterol level since your body stores extra calories as triglycerides. When triglyceride levels are high, HDL levels in your body tends to become low. Loosing those extra pounds even by only 10% can greatly improve your cholesterol level.
- SMOKING & ALCOHOL INTAKE. Smoking is scientifically proven to have harmful effects to your heart, lungs, blood pressure and cholesterol level. It damages arterial walls and lowers HDL levels. Moderate alcohol drinking (1-2 drinks daily) increases HDL level but is not proven to lower LDLs. What is certain is that drinking too much alcohol leads to liver and heart muscle damage, high blood pressure and high triglycerides levels.
- STRESS. Numerous studies show that stress increases blood cholesterol level over time. This is because stress affects personal habits. For instance, some people console themselves by binge eating super fatty foods and sweets when under pressure, this will of course lead to hypercholesterolemia.