High cholesterol and its associated health risks have become a major health concern among women. Women are more susceptible to developing high cholesterol during times of pregnancy and menopause but, unlike many medical conditions, high cholesterol does not exhibit any visible symptoms in women. Because of this, cholesterol levels should be frequently monitored by your doctor.
Cholesterol is rubbery substance that is produced by your liver. It can also be introduced to your system through the foods you eat. The amount of cholesterol that is produced by an individual's liver is based on things like diet, exercise, age, gender, weight, and genetics. If your cholesterol levels reach a certain level, you are likely to experience serious health complications, including heart disease.
Risk Factors in Women
There are two different categories of risk factors when it comes to a woman's cholesterol levels: controllable and uncontrollable. The controllable factors are measures you can take to maintain healthy cholesterol levels. These factors include diet, weight, physical activity and others. On the other hand, uncontrollable risk factors are characteristics that people posses which make them more susceptible to higher levels of cholesterol. Uncontrollable risk factors include age, gender and genetics.
Cholesterol is commonly referred to as being one of two types: LDL or HDL. It is important to note that LDL (low-density lipoproteins) and HDL (high-density lipoproteins) are not the actual cholesterol, but rather the particles that act as the carriers of cholesterol. These lipoporteins each have a different function. LDL particles are responsible for collecting cholesterol particles and carrying them into the blood stream. Health complications begin to arise when the LDL carriers stick to arteries and blood vessels, forming a hardened plaque that can constrict blood flow. It is the responsibility of the high-density lipoproteins (HDL) to gather the cholesterol in the bloodstream and take it back to the liver for removal from the body.High levels of HDL are desirable while high levels of LDL lead to health risks.
Hormones and Cholesterol in Women
The female hormone estrogen can cause women to have higher levels of HDL. When a woman goes through menopause her estrogen levels decrease significantly, which causes her levels of HDL to decrease in proportion. A reduction in HDL, the "good" cholesterol, leads to a much higher risk of developing health complications like heart attacks.
Cholesterol Linked to Breast Cancer
A 2004 article in U.S. News & World Report said that studies have shown a link between HDL levels and breast cancer in women. After following almost 38,000 women for a number of years, researchers in Norway found that women with lower levels of HDL were at least 25 more likely to have breast cancer than women with higher levels of HDL.
There are multiple ways to maintain a healthy cholesterol level. A healthy diet is the first place to start. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention claims that most instances of high cholesterol can be prevented by implementing a healthy diet into you daily life. An increase in physical activity (exercise) will also have positive effects on your cholesterol level. If you have high cholesterol due to uncontrollable factors, like genetics, there are a variety of cholesterol lowering medicines that your doctor can prescribe to help control it.