We have all heard about cholesterol, but how many of us really understand what it is and how it affects our health?
Cholesterol is fatty waxy substance which comes from certain foods we eat and is also produced naturally in our body by the liver. Having high levels of cholesterol can result in arteriolosclerosis (narrowing and hardening of the arteries) by the accumulation of cholesterol along the arterial walls.
Dietary cholesterol comes primarily from animal sources including meat, poultry, fish, and dairy products. Organ meats such as liver are especially high in cholesterol content. Most of our body’s cholesterol (about 80%) is produced in the liver.
There are 2 main types of cholesterol present within our bodies.
LDL (low density lipoprotein) cholesterol is referred to as “bad” cholesterol, and elevated levels of LDL cholesterol are associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease.
HDL (high density lipoprotein) cholesterol is known as the “good cholesterol” because HDL cholesterol particles help prevents atherosclerosis by lowering the levels of LDL cholesterol.
I have worked as a paramedic for the last 19 years, and treating patients suffering cardiac related disease is continually increasing each year. What is becoming more apparent is the increasing number of younger people in their 20’s and 30’s that are now suffering with cardiac illness’s such as hypertension, heart attack, stroke and premature death.
There are many factors which equate to the development of heart disease and stroke. To reduce our risks of developing such illness, we are told to exercise regularly, maintain a healthy weight, avoid smoking, limit your alcohol consumption and eat a balanced diet (just to name a few). By implementing these lifestyle factors, one can significantly reduce their risk of developing high cholesterol, thereby reducing their risk of heart disease, hypertension and stroke.
On a personal note, I have always maintained a healthy lifestyle and following the above factors in my daily living. So you can imagine the disbelief I had during my last physical when my doctor told me that I my cholesterol levels were dangerously elevated. I thought to myself “how can this be”? My diet was always relatively clean, I exercised and maintained a healthy weight, and I didn’t smoke. I was only 45 years old so this had to be a mistake!
Over the next 6 months I aggressively tried to naturally lower my cholesterol back to a healthy level, but was unsuccessful. It turned out that my elevated cholesterol was a result of inherited condition that could not be controlled with diet and lifestyle. As a result, I was put on medication to help lower my cholesterol and keep it within a healthy range. At surface level I had no risk factors and no symptoms, but yet my cholesterol was at a dangerous level. If left untreated I was a candidate of developing early coronary artery disease.
Having high cholesterol does not produce any symptoms until it is too late. The only way to catch this condition early is by regular annual physicals by your physician and routine blood work. You are at increased risk of developing high cholesterol if you are a male over 40 or a female over 50 and/or post-menopausal. It is vital to understand that even though you may not be experiencing any symptoms and are living a healthy lifestyle, you may still be a candidate for developing high cholesterol. Many of us tend to focus on the external when it comes to our health, but neglect what is happening internally.
As a health care professional and yoga instructor, I cannot stress enough the importance of visiting your family doctor annually and having your blood levels checked. Do not postpone or neglect seeing your doctor until it’s too late. The majority of health conditions can be prevented or delayed considerably by doing this simple task.