Contrary to popular belief, cholesterol is not bad for the body. It is in fact a waxy, fatlike substance that your body needs to function normally. It is naturally present in cell walls or membranes everywhere in the body which include the brain, nerves, muscles, skin, liver, intestines, and heart.
Cholesterol is found in human diet. All food containing animal fats also have cholesterol. Major dietary sources of cholesterol include eggs, beef and poultry. Even plants have trace amounts of cholesterol in them. So it is wrong to think that vegan diet, one that is strictly vegetarian which includes no animal foods including dairy, is guaranteed as cholesterol-free. However, in this case, the amounts are very small.
Cholesterol is used by the body to produce vitamin D, hormones, and bile acids that help to digest fat. However, only a small amount of cholesterol in the blood is needed to do these things. Cholesterol only becomes a problem if one has too much in the bloodstream. Excess cholesterol may be deposited in arteries. Its build-up can narrow and block the flow of blood. Blood carries nutrients and oxygen that the cells of the body need to function. If there is enough blockage, symptoms of coronary heart disease or CHD may be experienced. One example is a type of chest pain called angina. The most extreme case is when blood supply is completely cut off by total blockage. This results to a heart attack.
There are several reasons for having a high level of cholesterol, the most common of which are a high-fat diet and inherited risk factors. Sometimes, the age and gender of a person contributes to high cholesterol level as well. Women usually have lower total cholesterol levels than men of the same age, but as women and men age, their blood cholesterol levels rise. Women often have higher total cholesterol levels at the age of 60 than men of the same age.
Alcohol is also a factor in having high cholesterol level. Although it is proven that alcohol raises the level of good cholesterol, it does not eliminate bad cholesterol. It also damages the liver and some tissues around the heart. Excessive consumption of alcohol therefore can also affect cholesterol level.
Several studies have shown that stress raises blood cholesterol levels over the long term. It is not the stress per se, but it is how stress may affect a person’s habits. For example, it is common for many people who are under constant stress to console themselves by eating fatty and salty foods. The saturated fat and cholesterol in these foods contribute to higher levels of blood cholesterol.
Others turn to alcohol and as stated in the previous paragraph. Alcohol is also a contributing factor. Medication can also cause high levels of cholesterol for a short period of time. Some of the drugs that are known to increase cholesterol levels include anabolic steroids, beta blockers, epinephrine, oral contraceptives and vitamin D.
Due to high risks of acquiring coronary heart disease, it is recommended that adults take cholesterol tests as a routine part of preventive health care. Cholesterol testing as a screening test may be done at least once in every 5 years. Those who are already at risk of CHD, or have been tested before with results of having high cholesterol levels, should be tested at more frequent intervals. It is advisable to take this test along with a routine physical exam. However, there are excellent and reliable commercial cholesterol test kits available in the market so that tests can be done in the convenience of one’s own home. One should remember though that cholesterol should be measured when a person is healthy since blood cholesterol is temporarily low during acute illness. It is preferable to conduct a test at least 6 weeks after any illness. It is also not necessary to fast before a cholesterol test. Cholesterol level is high during pregnancy. Women should wait at least 6 weeks after the baby is born to have cholesterol measured.
So if you think that you are in a risk for CHD, or if you suspect that you have high levels of cholesterol because of a sedentary lifestyle, or if you are worried that you may be at risk because of your family’s medical history, just grab a total cholesterol test kit and learn for sure.