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Mary's Moments Blog Post

Cholesterol: Types, Risks, and Management

Recently, I wrote about cortisol and the effects it has on our health and bodies.  Today, I thought it might be interesting to delve into another topic of importance: Cholesterol.


This buzz word is crucial for our bodies but can be a double-edged sword. I’d like to share some information about the basics of cholesterol, its types, the risks associated with high levels, various medications prescribed for management, and natural options to maintain healthy levels. I’d also like to touch on the emotional journey of grappling with high cholesterol and the decision to take medication or not.


Cholesterol is a type of fat that our bodies need, but we only find it in animal products like meat, eggs, and dairy. Plants, on the other hand, don't make cholesterol. So, when we eat fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, and seeds, we're not taking in any cholesterol. This is why people who choose to eat plant-based foods don't consume cholesterol from their diet. They get all the good stuff like vitamins, minerals, and fiber without any of the cholesterol that can sometimes cause health problems when there's too much of it in our bodies.


Dealing with high cholesterol can be really tough. I've been experiencing it myself, trying out natural remedies like healthy foods and exercise to try to lower my levels. I've really put in a lot of effort to take control of my health. But sometimes, no matter what we do, our genes can still impact our levels. It's like they have their own plan for us.


Although diet can control what, if any cholesterol enters our bodies, our system can make cholesterol all on its own, mainly in our liver. It's like a factory inside us that produces it to help build cells and make hormones. Sometimes, though, the genes we inherit from our parents, can make our bodies produce too much cholesterol. Even if we eat healthy and exercise, it's possible to still have high cholesterol if you have genetic risk factor. Familial hypercholesterolemia is an inherited condition that affects how our bodies recycle LDL cholesterol. It’s important to keep an eye on the levels and work with our doctors to keep them in check, especially if we know it runs in our family.


What exactly is cholesterol anyway?


Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance found in every cell of our body. It's essential for building cell membranes, producing hormones, and aiding in digestion. There are two primary types of cholesterol: LDL (low-density lipoprotein) and HDL (high-density lipoprotein).


1.     LDL cholesterol, often dubbed "bad cholesterol," carries cholesterol from the liver to the cells. However, when there's excess LDL in the bloodstream, it can build up in the walls of arteries, forming plaques. These plaques narrow the arteries, leading to atherosclerosis, a condition increasing the risk of heart disease and stroke.


2.     HDL cholesterol on the other hand is known as "good cholesterol." It transports cholesterol from the bloodstream back to the liver, where it's broken down and removed from the body. Higher levels of HDL are associated with a lower risk of heart disease.


As boring as some of this information can be to read through, it's important to have a good understanding of the topic - especially if you have or are a candidate for the condition.


I’m sure you will have heard of Triglycerides.  These are like little packages of fat in our bodies. When we eat, our bodies turn extra calories we don't need right away into triglycerides, which are stored in fat cells. Later, when we need energy, hormones release these triglycerides to give us the boost we need. So, they're kind of like our body's backup fuel. But having too many triglycerides can be a problem and can raise the risk of heart disease. That's why it's important to keep an eye on our levels and eat healthy foods to keep them in check.


Understanding bloodwork results: Non-HDL cholesterol, also called CALC, is a type of cholesterol that includes all the "bad" cholesterol in our blood. This means it includes LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, which can build up in our arteries and cause heart problems. Non-HDL cholesterol also includes VLDL (very low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, which is another type of cholesterol that can be harmful. So, when non-HDL cholesterol is mentioned, it's the total amount of cholesterol in our blood that could potentially harm our hearts. It's important to keep this number low.



Dangers of High Cholesterol or elevated levels of LDL cholesterol pose significant health risks. Atherosclerosis can progress silently for years, eventually leading to cardiovascular diseases like heart attacks and strokes, peripheral artery disease and even gallstones.


We've all heard - the same old...... ways it develops - genetics, diet, lifestyle choices, and underlying health conditions like diabetes and hypothyroidism. Diets high in saturated and trans fats, lack of exercise, smoking, and excessive alcohol consumption contribute to the elevated cholesterol levels.


So what are we to do?


When lifestyle changes don’t cut it to lower cholesterol levels, medications are often prescribed. Some common medications include statins, which inhibit the production of cholesterol in the liver; bile acid sequestrants, which help remove LDL cholesterol from the bloodstream; and PCSK9 inhibitors, which enhance the liver's ability to remove LDL cholesterol.


When your doctor wants to check your cholesterol levels, they might ask to do a blood test. If your cholesterol is too high, they might recommend medication to help lower it. There are different types of cholesterol-lowering drugs, like statins, fibrates, and ezetimibe. Each works in a different way, but they all help lower the markers. Some people might need more than one type to get their cholesterol down. It's important to take medication exactly how the doctor prescribes. Don't skip doses or stop taking it without talking to the doctor first. If you want to stop taking medication, the doctor will advise how to do it safely. You may have to wait for a while before stopping to make sure the cholesterol levels stay under control.


Starting a statin for high cholesterol can feel like stepping into the unknown. There's relief knowing you're taking steps to improve your health, but there might also be worry or uncertainty about what it means day to day. It's normal to have mixed feelings—grateful for the medication that can help protect your heart, yet maybe a bit nervous about any side effects or changes it might bring. There's a feeling of urgency to make adjustments to your diet or exercise routine. And through it all, there's a hopefulness that this decision will lead to better health. It's okay to for us to feel all these emotions—it's completely normal.


In addition to medications, there are several natural approaches we can try for managing cholesterol levels too. We all know this so well ……. a heart-healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins; regular exercise; quitting smoking; limiting alcohol intake; and maintaining a healthy weight. Certain foods like oats, nuts, fatty fish, and olive oil are known to have cholesterol-lowering effects.


I have been diagnosed with high cholesterol. Due to an aversion to some medications, I've always preferred natural remedies and holistic approaches to health but am now facing the reality of possibly needing medication to manage my condition. It's a challenging decision, filled with conflicting emotions. On one hand, I understand the importance of controlling my cholesterol levels to protect my heart health and overall well-being. On the other hand, there's a fear of potential side effects and a sense of surrendering control over my body to pharmaceuticals. Bad cholesterol builds up over time but the problem is that it also takes quite a bit of time to reverse it.  I have not made a definitive decision yet - I may actually try one more natural remedy. Weighing the risks and benefits of all options is necessary. Ultimately prioritizing my health above all else.


Cholesterol plays a vital role in our bodies, but elevated levels, especially of LDL cholesterol, can have serious consequences for our health. Understanding the different types, the risks associated with high levels, and the available treatment options is important for managing this condition. Whether through medications or natural interventions, taking proactive steps to maintain healthy cholesterol levels is key for our cardiovascular health and overall well-being.


It is absolutely necessary to take a moment to reflect on what truly matters. We all want to stick around for as long as we can, don't we?


It's not just about living; it's about truly enjoying life, cherishing moments with our loved ones, and making memories that last a lifetime. Our decisions regarding cholesterol and heart health aren't just about numbers on a chart; they're about ensuring we have more time to love, laugh, and live fully.


So make choices with our hearts in mind, because in the end, it's the beating of that very heart that allows us to experience life's greatest joys.


Did you know?


Every day, the heart creates enough energy to drive a truck 20 miles.  In a lifetime, that is equivalent to driving to the moon and back.  So, when you tell someone you love them to the “moon and back”, you’re essentially saying you will love them with all the blood your heart pumps during your lifetime. 


Welcome discussions with medical professionals about colesterol levels especially when they are elevated. We each have unique situations and a thorough review and understanding of all options is necessary in order to decide best steps for ourselves moving forward.


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This content is for information purposes only and not to be used for diagnosis, treatment or referral services. Content is not designed or intended to constitute medical advice or to be used for diagnosis.  The material herein is offered solely as a tool of general value; it may not apply to specific cases in practice and are not to be considered professional advice or guidance for a particular case.  Online resources are not a substitute for the personalized judgment and care of a trained medical professional.

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