“Adults above the age of 40 and patients suffering from other non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart-related diseases are advised to get a lipid profile done in order to diagnose high cholesterol.”- Dr. Pradeep Kumarasinghe De Silva, Consultant Physician, Colombo National Hospital.
Micro-organisms are the modes of transmission in many diseases which bring down one’s health but it is not so where non-infectious diseases (non-communicable diseases) are concerned. Cholesterol is a lipid produced by the body. While cholesterol serves many purposes to maintain the smooth functioning of the body, when produced excessively, it could harm one’s health. Dr. Pradeep Kumarasinghe de Silva, Consultant Physician of the Colombo National Hospital, speaks to the Health Capsule on cholesterol.
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a type of a lipid produced by the liver. Cholesterol serves many purposes in the body. It is a component of many hormones and serves structural purposes in cell membranes amongst other functions. The majority of the cholesterol is produced by the liver. 15% is obtained from the diet.Your brain is primarily made up of cholesterol. It is essential for nerve cells to function. Cholesterol is the basis for the creation of all steroid hormones, including oestrogen, testosterone and corticosteroids. Cholesterol is classified as low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and high density lipoproteins (HDL). While both types of cholesterol prove useful to the human body, an excess of LDL causes high cholesterol which takes an ill wind to health.
Dangers of high cholesterol
Dr. Kumarasinghe said excessive amounts of LDL gave rise to severe conditions such as heart disease and strokes. “Excessive amounts of LDL cholesterol get deposited in the blood vessels, especially in the coronary arteries that supply blood to the heart muscles, forming a plaque. Plaques hinder the blood flow by narrowing the pathway of blood through the blood vessel. Therefore, the heart does not receive sufficient amounts of oxygen.” The heart being an active organ with cardiac muscles that never fatigue, it requires a large supply of blood. “When the blood supply is compromised, the heart does not receive enough oxygen, resulting in a chest pain known as angina.”
Sometimes when a plaque is formed by excess LDL, ruptured platelets form a clot in the area. When this clot is formed, it totally blocks the blood supply to the heart. It is more serious than previous instances, where the plaque only reduces the blood supply. This could lead to heart attacks and strokes. In the case of a stroke, a blood clot is formed in the heart, blocking the flow of blood to the brain.
“Another lipid component that must be taken into consideration are triglycerides, which again cause health issues in excess but the threat is less than that of LDL. These could cause pancreas-related issues such as pancreatitis, the deformation of the pancreas. HDLs are health-friendly.”
How to prevent high cholesterol
Since cholesterol is produced by the liver, control is the main key. “One’s daily diet plays a very important role in controlling cholesterol. Animal-based meals, especially beef and pork contribute to LDL levels in the body. Dairy products such as cheese, butter and egg yolk are other foods containing high cholesterol. Plant- based diets are good for the health as they do not contain cholesterol. Coconut oil is a plant-based product that does not contain cholesterol but it contains saturated fatty acids that stimulate the liver to produce more cholesterol.” Dr. Kumarasinghe further stressed that regular exercises helps prevent the accumulation of cholesterol, so it is important to lead an active lifestyle.
Diagnosis and treatment of high cholesterol
Similar to other non-communicable diseases, high cholesterol does not show any symptoms. Therefore, Dr. Kumarasinghe advises a check-up. Adults above the age of 40 and patients suffering from other non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure and other heart-related diseases are advised to get a lipid profile done in order to diagnose high cholesterol. A lipid profile identifies all lipid component levels in the blood separately. “A fasting period of 12 hours is required prior to a lipid profile test. The LDL level of a person who does not suffer from any other disease reaching up to 160mg/dl is considered acceptable but under the condition of a patient suffering from any other risk factors such as diabetes or hypertension, it is required to maintain one’s LDL level to below 100mg/dl. HDL levels are usually around 50mg/dl.”
When LDL cholesterol rises to very high levels, physicians may prescribe the use of pharmaceutical drugs. According to Dr. Kumarasinghe the new guidelines also recommend that diabetic patients above 40 years of age with normal levels of cholesterol should use an anti-cholesterol drug.
As in all other cases, prevention is better than cure. A healthy diet and regular exercise can take you a long way.