What Is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a commonly misunderstood part of our diets. Most people know they are supposed to avoid foods that are high in cholesterol, but many people do not know what cholesterol is. Cholesterol is a fatty substance that is found in foods. Many people are surprised to learn that they actually need cholesterol in the their diets. It is used in the formation of cell membranes, production of some hormones and creation of bile. However, many people get far too much cholesterol in their diets, and this can cause serious health problems. The blood carries cholesterol throughout the body to the various organs and glands that need to use it. Cholesterol rides through the blood on carriers that are called lipoproteins. When there is too much cholesterol riding through the blood, it will begin to build up in the artery walls. This buildup is called plaque and is the cause of many cardiovascular conditions.
How Plaque Buildup Hurts
As plaque builds up in the arteries, it will block the amount of blood flow that can get through because it narrows the arteries. When this occurs near vital organs, especially the heart, it can cause serious problems and even death. When the coronary arteries, or the arteries near the heart, become narrowed by plaque buildup, it can cause a heart attack. When the arteries that take blood to the brain are blocked, it can cause a stroke. Both heart attacks and strokes can be life threatening, so monitoring your cholesterol intake and blood levels is very important.
Other Conditions Caused by High Cholesterol
High levels of cholesterol can also cause a condition known as atherosclerosis, or the hardening of the arteries. When the arteries become filled with plaque, the walls become stiff and brittle. This not only restricts blood flow, but it can also cause the arteries to burst because they are so brittle; this can lead to blood clots.
Dietary Changes to Help Lower Cholesterol
High cholesterol is a serious condition, but the good news is that it can be treated. There are various medications used to lower cholesterol, but one of the best ways to manage high cholesterol is through dietary changes. Patients with high cholesterol should eat a diet that contains less than 30 percent of calories from fat, and these should only contain 7 percent saturated fats. They should also limit their cholesterol intake to 200 mg per day. By following this type of diet, many people can lower their cholesterol levels, and those without cholesterol problems may be able to avoid developing them in the future.
- Photo Credit Danelle Collins
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