What is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that’s found in all the cells in your body. Your liver makes cholesterol, and it is also in some foods, such as meat and dairy products. Your body needs some cholesterol to work properly. But if you have too much cholesterol in your blood, you have a higher risk of coronary artery disease.
Cholesterol travels through the blood on proteins called “lipoproteins.” Two types of lipoproteins carry cholesterol throughout the body:
LDL (low-density lipoprotein), sometimes called “bad” cholesterol, makes up most of your body’s cholesterol. High levels of LDL cholesterol raise your risk for heart disease and stroke.
HDL (high-density lipoprotein), or “good” cholesterol, absorbs cholesterol and carries it back to the liver. The liver then flushes it from the body. High levels of HDL cholesterol can lower your risk for heart disease and stroke.
When your body has too much LDL cholesterol, the LDL cholesterol can build up on the walls of your blood vessels. This buildup is called “plaque.” As your blood vessels build up plaque over time, the insides of the vessels narrow. This narrowing blocks blood flow to and from your heart and other organs. When blood flow to the heart is blocked, it can cause angina (chest pain) or a heart attack.
Causes of high cholesterol
Lifestyle factors that may cause high cholesterol are:
- a diet high in red meat, full-fat dairy products, saturated fats, trans fats, and processed foods
- a large waist circumference (over 40 inches for men or over 35 inches for women)
- lack of regular exercise
How to treat high cholesterol
To treat high cholesterol, doctors often recommend these lifestyle changes:
- stopping smoking
- eating a healthy diet
- exercising regularly
- reducing stress
Sometimes lifestyle changes aren’t enough, especially if you have FH. You may need one or more medications such as:
- statins to help your liver get rid of cholesterol
- bile-acid-binding medications to help your body use extra cholesterol to produce bile
- cholesterol absorption inhibitors to prevent your small intestines from absorbing cholesterol and releasing it into your bloodstream
- injectable medications that cause your liver to absorb more LDL cholesterol
Medications and supplements to reduce triglyceride levels may also be used such as niacin (Niacor), omega-3 fatty acids, and fibrates.