Numerous factors from genetics to lifestyle choices can contribute towards the development of high cholesterol, often known as “The Silent Killer”.
A new report has revealed that most people with dangerously high cholesterol levels (or a genetic susceptibility) are untreated and do not take statins, the drug which lowers the production of cholesterol by the liver. As a part of the study, researchers from Harvard analyzed data collected from 1999 to 2014 from U.S. adults age 20 and over.
Normal levels of cholesterol, produced by the body as well as consumed in the form of food, are required for the healthy functioning of the body. But when these levels reach a high concentration in the blood, fatty deposits may develop in the blood vessels, disrupting blood flow through the arteries. As a result, the risk of heart attack can rise as the organ does not receive enough oxygen-rich blood. People with high cholesterol are also at risk for stroke and blood clots.
A number of factors can contribute towards the development of high cholesterol, with some being controllable.
Consuming foods that are high in saturated fat and trans fat (meat, whole milk, chips, cheese, fried foods etc.) can increase levels of cholesterol. Those who lead a sedentary lifestyle and are overweight are likely to have low levels of High-density lipoprotein (HDL), which is responsible for transporting excess cholesterol back to the liver. Cigarette smoking is also known to reduce HDL.
Genetics can be an uncontrollable factor as individuals are more likely to inherit high cholesterol (familial hypercholesterolemia) when it runs in the family. Other high-risk groups include people who have diseases such as hypothyroidism, chronic kidney disease, and certain types of liver disease.
The danger of having high cholesterol is that it does not cause any symptoms, which has earned itself names like “The Silent Killer”. Taking a blood test that measures cholesterol levels is the only way to identify its existence.
“For the majority of people, there are no symptoms until they have a heart attack. Patients may have bumps (i.e. deposits of cholesterol) around the eyes or bumps on the tendons, but many patients don’t. A white ring around the cornea of the eye is sometimes seen in patients even under the age of 45,” explains Dr. James Underberg, from the NYU Center for Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease and president of the National Lipid Association.
With the arising question of how to prevent high cholesterol, experts suggest that maintaining a healthy weight and increasing daily physical activity are good places to start.
Adding more whey protein to the diet can help reduce Low-density lipoprotein (LDL). The same effect is seen with the consumption of soluble fiber which is found in foods like oat, fruits, beans, lentils, and vegetables. Moderating alcohol consumption and quitting smoking are both known to improve HDL levels and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Overall, it can be noted that these prevention tactics largely overlap with heart-healthy diets and lifestyle choices.