Can High Cholesterol Cause Heart Disease?
Being the most common type of steroid in the body, cholesterol is a waxy substance that is essential for the formation of stomach acids for digestion of food, hormones like estrogen and testosterone, and Vitamin-D for the skin.
Cholesterol travels through the bloodstream in small packages called lipoproteins. These packages are made of fat (lipid) on the inside and proteins on the outside. LDL (low-density lipoproteins) and HDL (high-density lipoproteins) are the 2 types of lipoproteins carrying cholesterol throughout the body. A high LDL, also called the bad cholesterol, can lead to a buildup of cholesterol in the arteries. HDL cholesterol is also known as the good cholesterol because it carries cholesterol from other parts of the body back to the liver, which removes the cholesterol from the body.
The liver is responsible to make all the cholesterol the body requires, but cholesterol may also enter the body from food such as animal-based foods like milk, eggs, meat and full-fat dairy products. These foods are high in saturated and trans fat, which can trigger the liver to produce more cholesterol than it otherwise would.
For some peoples, too much cholesterol in the body
can be unhealthy. High blood cholesterol, which does not have any signs or
symptoms, can raise the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD), a condition in
which plaque builds up inside the coronary arteries. The plaque is made up of
cholesterol, fat, calcium, and other substances found in the blood. When plaque
builds up in the arteries, the condition is called atherosclerosis.
Over time, plaque hardens and narrows the coronary arteries limiting the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the heart. Eventually, an area of plaque can rupture. This can cause a blood clot to form on the surface of the plaque. If the clot becomes large enough, it can mostly or completely block blood flow through a coronary artery. When the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the heart muscle is reduced or blocked, angina or a heart attack may occur. Plaque can also build up in other arteries in the body, such as the arteries that bring oxygen-rich blood to the brain and limbs. This can lead to problems like carotid artery disease, stroke, and peripheral artery disease.
A variety of factors can affect the cholesterol levels. First of all, diet. While foods rich in saturated and trans fat may raise the cholesterol level, LDL cholesterol can be reduced by increasing the amount of fiber and plant-derived sterols. Overweight can raise cholesterol, so losing weight can help lower the LDL and total cholesterol as well as raise the HDL. Regular exercise can reduce LDL and raise HDL cholesterol. Hence, one should try to be physically active for at least 30 minutes a day. Ageing may cause cholesterol levels to rise. High cholesterol may also run in families. Occasionally, medical conditions like hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid gland), liver disease and kidney disease may cause an elevation of cholesterol levels in the blood. Some medicines, like steroids and progestins, may increase LDL and decrease the HDL.
Many New research, however, questions the role cholesterol plays in the development of heart disease. For instance, a paper published in 2012 noted that while 50 years of research indicated a strong positive correlation between dietary cholesterol and heart disease, newer research does not support that. The findings indicated that most people do not have an increase in blood cholesterol due to diet. Of those who do, both HDL and LDL rise. Hence, the researchers concluded there is a need to rethink guidelines for dietary cholesterol, especially for healthy people.
Perhaps that is why the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans do not include the recommendation to limit dietary cholesterol to 300 milligrams per day, though the guidelines do suggest eating as little dietary cholesterol as possible, and point to studies and trials that have produced strong evidence that eating patterns can reduce the risk of heart disease in adults.
Nevertheless, more research should be done on
cholesterol, particularly dietary cholesterol. Even so, it is clear that diet
does play an important role in heart health and overall health.
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