Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that is naturally present in the cell walls or membranes of the body. What’s important to know is that our body uses cholesterol to produce many hormones, as well as one of the most important vitamins in the body – vitamin D. Cholesterol is of two types: LDL Cholesterol (Low-Density Lipoprotein) and HDL Cholesterol (High-Density Lipoprotein). LDL can build up on the walls of your arteries and increase your chances of getting a heart disease, this why LDL cholesterol is referred to as the ‘bad’ cholesterol. The total ratio of HDL/LDL actually matters more. HDL helps prevent your arteries from becoming blocked. It does this by cleaning the excess cholesterol, lining the walls of the blood vessels, and then bringing it back to the liver for reprocessing.
Triglycerides are the form in which most fat exists in food and in the body. It is often increased by sugar and alcohol. The total blood cholesterol is the measure of LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, and other lipid components. The cholesterol level should not be too low either because cholesterol is needed to produce many youth hormones as well. It is usually preferred that the cholesterol count should be below 140 mg/dL.
Cholesterol is produced by the liver. Additionally, it also comes from the food intakes which are then packaged into particles called lipoproteins. As mentioned earlier, the body needs cholesterol to produce hormones, Vitamin D and a substance that helps in digestion of food called bile.
Atherosclerosis is the build-up of fatty deposits including cholesterol in the walls of the arteries. Cholesterol is a major cause of cardiovascular disease including stroke and heart attack and contributes to the death of about 17 million people worldwide every year. Out of the many types of cholesterol, the main type involved in atherosclerosis is LDL. It is important to increase HDLC and reduce LDLC when treating high cholesterol.
A normal artery wall consists of 3 main layers: a thin smooth layer that lines the inside of the artery, a muscular elastic layer that helps the artery walls to push blood around the body and a tough outer layer to protect the artery. The exact cause of atherosclerosis is not known but several factors including smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol are known to damage the smooth lining of the artery and contribute to atherosclerosis. Once this layer is damaged, the bad cholesterol LDL can get into the wall of the artery.
There are 4 key stages n the development of atherosclerosis. The body tries to defend against the invasion of LDL into the artery walls by activating specialized cells called macrophages to consume the LDL. They become large cholesterol-enriched cells called foam cells that are embedded in the vessel wall. The accumulation of foam cells can be seen by the presence of fatty streaks in the vessel wall. As the fatty streaks grow, the body tries to protect the artery by surrounding them in a fibrous capsule. At this stage, the growth is called a plaque. As the plaque gets bigger, the body tries to preserve the blood flow through the artery. The plaque expands into the elastic layer, which stretches in order to keep the opening of the artery the same. If the plaque continues to grow, its expansion will eventually intrude on the inner opening of the vessel cannot stretch anymore. This reduces the ability of the blood to get through the artery. Also over time calcium may be deposited in the plaque making it hard and inflexible. This reduces the ability of the artery to expand and to increase blood flow when needed, for e.g., during exercise. As the plaque grows into the artery opening, it squeezes the blood through an even smaller gap. The resulting increase in pressure at the narrowing can damage the capsule covering the plaque which may then rupture resulting in a blood clot that can completely block the artery.
Depending on the location of the blockage, the consequences such as stroke or heart attack may be severe and could be life-threatening. Atherosclerosis is progressive and it can take many years before symptoms can appear. But some people can have no symptoms even with extensive atherosclerosis and risk from sudden death. The symptoms depend on the site of the affected artery – in the heart, it can manifest as chest pain, angina; in the brain, it is a type of mini-stroke called transient ischemic attacks; in the legs, a cramp like a condition called intermittent claudication, which can result in amputation of the limb. If a plaque ruptures the resulting blood clot may block the artery and cause a heart attack or a stroke which can often be fatal. Atherosclerosis may cause the artery wall to weaken causing it bulge under the pressure from the blood. This bulge called an aneurysm can rupture and the resulting bleeding called a hemorrhage can be fatal. LDL contributes to cardiovascular disease and atherosclerosis.
Symptoms of high cholesterol
Chronic poor appetite and lack of appetite
Tiredness or fatigue
Excess weight gain
Masses or body bumps
Chest or stomach distension
Headache or knee pain or back pain