While most people of a certain age are generally aware that standard blood tests measure cholesterol, it’s worth understanding a more about what is being measured and why.
Cholesterol is a fatty substance created in the liver, and its presence is required throughout the human body to make vitamin D, hormones, and bile. A high cholesterol reading may indicate that your body has more cholesterol than it needs, which can result in heart attack or stroke.
Some are predisposed to high cholesterol due to genetics; if one or both of your parents had high cholesterol, you are more likely to have it as well, and so should be checked earlier. While less than a quarter of cholesterol in the body is derived from food, levels can be managed by through diet and exercise, and medication like statins.
Cholesterol is delivered from the liver throughout the body via lipoproteins. Low density lipoproteins (LDL) carry cholesterol to where it’s needed and are commonly referred to as bad cholesterol. Elevated levels of LDLs are dangerous. High density lipoproteins (HDL) return cholesterol back to the liver and are referred to as good cholesterol. Having a high HDL levels is rarely a cause of concern in itself. If there’s too much cholesterol being delivered by LDL proteins, the excess will be deposited into arteries as plaque, a combination of cholesterol and fat.
A cholesterol reading is actually a combination of LDL, HDL, and triglycerides. Triglycerides a product of fat and excess sugar that the body stores for future use. High triglycerides are an indicator of obesity and diabetes.
Because insulin is needed to store the fat and excess sugar, its levels tend to rise along with triglycerides. Increased insulin affects the pancreas by suppressing production of glucagon. Glucagon is a hormone that performs the opposite function of insulin, but putting sugar back into the blood to be used as energy. For this reason, a high triglyceride level can be an early diabetes indicator. Triglyceride levels are included in the net cholesterol level because the approach for reducing triglycerides and cholesterol is the same.
Arteries narrowed due to plaque will reduce blood flow in the body. Restricted blood flow can result in a number of danger symptoms and diseases, including the following:
- When blood flow is restricted to the heart, symptoms include chest pain and pressure, and frequently a mistaken feeling of indigestion.
- Plaque also increases the likelihood of blood clots in the arteries, which can block the flow of blood altogether and increase the risk of heart attack.
- Blocked or restricted blood flow can also deprive the brain of oxygen, causing a stroke. Symptoms can include weakness, numbness, inability to speak, see, or move.
- Restricted blood flow to arms and legs may result in numbness, pain, or infection, including gangrene (death of muscle tissue).
- Your other organs may also be affected, including kidneys, stomach, gallbladder, and intestines, resulting in pain, nausea, vomiting, bloody stool, and gallstones (more than 80% of gallstones are cholesterol stones).