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The Cholesterol is a fatty substance naturally present in all cells necessary for normal functioning of the body human body. Most of the cholesterol is produced in the liver, although it is also obtained through some foods.

Let’s define its function:

  • Involved in the formation of bile acids, vital for the digestion of fats.
  • The sun’s rays transform it into vitamin D to protect the skin from chemical agents and prevent dehydration.
  • From it certain hormones are formed, such as sexual and thyroid hormones.

Types of cholesterol

Blood conducts cholesterol from the intestine or liver to the organs that need it and does so by joining particles called lipoproteins. There are two types of lipoproteins:

Low density (LDL): are responsible for transporting new cholesterol from the liver to all cells in our body.

High density (HDL): collect unused cholesterol and return it to the liver for storage or excretion to the outside through the bile.

According to this interaction we can talk about two types of cholesterol:

Bad cholesterol: the cholesterol when it attaches to the LDL particle is deposited in the wall of the arteries and forms atheromatous plaques.

Good cholesterol: the cholesterol when joining the HDL particle transports excess cholesterol back to the liver to be destroyed.

Why is it a risk factor?

  • If their blood levels rise they produce hypercholesterolemia. It is shown that people with blood cholesterol levels of 240 have twice the risk of suffering a myocardial infarction than those with figures of 200.
  • When the cells are unable to absorb all the cholesterol circulating in the blood, the excess is deposited in the wall of the artery and contributes to its progressive narrowing causing atherosclerosis.
  • If a patient with atheromatosis keeps his blood cholesterol levels too low, he can get that cholesterol from the arterial wall back into the blood and be eliminated there. Therefore, patients who have suffered myocardial infarction or stroke are advised to keep very low cholesterol levels to try to clean their arteries.

Hypercholesterolemia and dyslipidemia

The cholesterol has no symptoms or physical signs, so diagnosis can only be done by a blood test to determine cholesterol and triglycerides. It is convenient that people at risk of suffering from dyslipidemia (alteration of normal levels of these fats), who have family members with ischemic heart disease and other cardiovascular diseases, undergo this test from an early age.

What are the normal cholesterol and triglyceride levels?

Total cholesterol

  • Normal: less than 200 mg/dl
  • Normal-high: between 200 and 240 mg/dl. Total cholesterol levels greater than 200 mg/dl are considered hypercholesterolemia.
  • High: above 240 mg/dl

LDL cholesterol

  • Normal: less than 100 mg/dl
  • Normal-high: from 100 to 160 mg/dl
  • High: above 160 mg/dl

NOTE: This recommendation does not mean that the normal LDL figure should be around 100 mg/dl. In some cases, the desirable level of LDL may even be less than 70 mg/dl.

HDL cholesterol

  • Normal: higher than 35 mg/dl in men and 40 mg/dl in women

What are the normal levels of triglycerides?

  • Normal: less than 150 mg/dl
  • Normal-high: between 100 and 500 mg/dl. Hypertriglyceridemia is considered at triglyceride levels above 150-200 mg/dl.
  • High: above 500 mg/dl.

How to lower cholesterol: treatment and prevention

Hypercholesterolemia can be prevented by following the following recommendations:

  • With a balanced diet and without saturated fats. The Mediterranean diet is ideal because its contribution of fats comes mainly from the monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids present in fish and olive oils and seeds. The consumption of vegetables, legumes, cereals, vegetables and fruits is also important.
  • Doing a program of aerobic exercise (walking, gentle running, cycling, swimming…), at moderate intensity (65-70 percent of maximum heart rate) and developed regularly (three to five sessions per week), increases HDL ( good cholesterol) and reduces LDL (bad cholesterol) and triglyceride levels.

Once the dyslipidemia is diagnosed, and if diet and exercise do not reduce the levels by themselves, the doctor will opt for drug treatment. The choice of drugs depends on the dominant anomaly: elevation of LDL (bad cholesterol); elevation of triglycerides; or elevated levels in both cases. Some of the drugs for patients with high cholesterol are:

  • Statins
  • Exchange resins
  • Phytosterols
  • Fibrates
  • Ezetimibe

Never diet or drugs should be stopped until the doctor tells you to.

Cholesterol in children

There are more and more cases among children or young people that due to an incorrect diet and sedentary lifestyle become serious candidates for hypercholesterolemia in the future. In general, these should be cholesterol figures for children and adolescents:

  • Normal: less than 170 mg/dl
  • Normal-high: between 170 and 199 mg/dl
  • High: above 200 mg/dl

Cholesterol in women

During pregnancy. It is usually normal for the woman to suffer an alteration of blood lipid levels. Pregnant women should control their cholesterol levels and take extra care if they are patients with previous hyperlipidemias.

During menopause. Alterations in the lipoprothetic pattern related to the decrease in estrogen occur: HDL (good cholesterol) decreases and total cholesterol and LDL (bad cholesterol) increase. Doctors recommend hormone replacement therapy (estrogen and progesterone) or estrogen hormone therapy. Both treatments reduce the usual discomforts of menopause and prevent osteoporosis. In addition, sometimes, they can also slightly raise HDL (good cholesterol) and reduce total cholesterol.

Cholesterol and other risk factors

Cholesterol and Diabetes. Diabetes (type I and type II) can increase cholesterol levels. In fact, the desirable cholesterol levels in diabetics are lower than in the general population.

Cholesterol and Obesity. Obese patients usually have hypertriglyceridemia and a low level of HDL (good cholesterol). Losing weight causes an increase in HDL levels, a reduction in triglyceride levels, better glucose tolerance, decreased levels of insulin and uric acid, and a drop in blood pressure.

Cholesterol and Sedentary. Exercise is one of the general recommendations for the treatment and prevention of hypercholesterolemia. Among the positive consequences of physical exercise on the body is the improvement of lung capacity, cardiovascular system and cholesterol levels and blood pressure.

Cholesterol and Alcohol. Excessive alcohol consumption causes hypertriglyceridemia.