Why High Cholesterol Is So Bad for Your Body (and What You Can Do About It)

Cholesterol level chart

Cholesterol levels might be higher with a thyroid problem. | iStock.com/designer491

Have you had your cholesterol levels checked lately? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes as of 2015, 71 million American adults of high cholesterol levels — and only one out of every three people with high cholesterol have their condition under control. With that said, there is evidence that more folks than ever are getting their levels checked, as having low levels of bad cholesterol is vital in keeping your heart ticking for years to come.

What is high cholesterol?

It’s important to understand what exactly cholesterol is and how it affects your body. Mayo Clinic explains cholesterol is a substance that takes on a waxy consistency and is found within the fats in your blood. Your body needs cholesterol to function properly — but too much of the bad kind, known as low-density lipoprotein (LDL), can cause fatty deposits to build up in your blood vessels.

There’s another type of cholesterol you don’t want more of, however. High-density lipoprotein (HDL) travels through your blood to pick up excess cholesterol. It then brings it to the liver for storage.

So, what should your cholesterol levels look like? The CDC notes your total cholesterol should be less than 200 mg/dL, and your LDL cholesterol should stand less than 100 mg/dL. Alternatively, it’s your HDL that you’ll want to make sure is high enough. For this type, your levels should be above 60 mg/dL.

What high cholesterol does to your body

The CDC notes those with high cholesterol have roughly twice the risk of developing heart disease as those who do not — so you can see how important it is to know your levels. When LDL causes fatty deposits to build, this makes it difficult for blood to flow freely through the arteries, which can ultimately lead to heart disease or a heart attack. If blood doesn’t get to your brain efficiently enough, this can also lead to a stroke.

There are few signs of high cholesterol, which is why getting your levels checked is the key to prevention. Mayo Clinic also notes higher levels can cause atherosclerosis, which is plaque accumulation on the arteries that can lead to uncomfortable physical symptoms. If you have atherosclerosis, you may notice chest pain and other coronary artery disease symptoms prior to the more serious complications that cholesterol can lead to.

What you need to do about it

Wondering how you came to have such high cholesterol? For some, heredity has a lot to do with it — but lifestyle is also a major factor here. Eating a diet high in saturated fats, animal products, and trans fats can certainly raise your levels. Full-fat dairy products should also be avoided.

You should also know what your body mass index is. A BMI over 30 puts you in the “obese” range, and that’s been shown to contribute to higher cholesterol levels as well. And of course, smoking, skipping out on daily exercise, and having coexisting conditions (such as diabetes) can further damage your blood vessels and arteries and exacerbate the issue.

If your cholesterol levels are high enough to warrant medication, there are plenty of options here, too. Doctors may prescribe you with statins, cholesterol absorption inhibitors, injectables (a newer class of drugs), or medicines that bind to bile acids to help keep your bad levels low. Your doctor should present to you all of the best options available regarding your health and the severity of your condition, so be sure to do all necessary research in considering which is the right one for you.

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