If you’re like me, you’ve been hearing about cholesterol your entire life. I can remember when I was 7 years old and getting my first blood test (I was actually diagnosed with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis at the time), my doctor telling me that he was going to check my cholesterol levels.
At the time my cholesterol level was around 450 (yeah, I know that’s crazy for a 7 year old!), but soon after starting the medication synthroid, my numbers dropped to a safe range (under 200). That’s because when thyroid hormone levels are low and TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) levels are increased (hypothyroidism), cholesterol levels are increased. You see a drop in cholesterol levels with the treatment of hypothyroidism with thyroid hormone, in my case, synthroid.
While there was a connection between my hypothyroidism and high cholesterol, the biggest connection that high cholesterol has is with heart disease. The two go hand and hand together.
When you have high cholesterol, you’re chances for having a heart attack and/or heart disease grow exponentially. To understand why heart attacks and cholesterol are connected, you must first understand where cholesterol comes from and what it does.
Cholesterol is a type of lipoprotein that is found not only in your bloodstream but also in every cell in your body, where it helps to produce cell membranes, hormones, vitamin D, and bile acids that help you digest fat. The two types of lipoproteins that carry cholesterol to and from cells are low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, and high-density lipoprotein, or HDL.
LDL cholesterol is considered the “bad” cholesterol because it contributes to plaque, a thick, hard deposit that can clog arteries and make them less flexible. HDL cholesterol is considered “good” cholesterol because it helps remove LDL cholesterol from the arteries.
Your cells need cholesterol (both LDL and HDL), and your body makes all it needs.
I’d like to repeat that. Your cells need cholesterol, and your body makes all it needs. Again, you already make all of the cholesterol you need.
The problem for most people is that you also get cholesterol from the food you eat. Cholesterol products are ONLY found in animal products, so if you eat a lot of animal products, you are bringing excess cholesterol into your system.
Animal products that are high in cholesterol include eggs, fish, butter, shellfish, shrimp, bacon, sausages, red meat, and cheese. Unfortunately, like most Americans, I find all of those to be delicious as well.
Cholesterol accumulation silently and slowly begins to block your arteries, putting blood flow at risk. This is called hardening of the arteries, or atherosclerosis. When your system is all clogged up, you are at extreme risk for heart disease and/or suffering from a heart attack.
It is so important that we all take the time to learn about the cholesterol connection and what we can do to lower our cholesterol levels, and consequently, lower our risk for heart disease and heart attacks. The most important change you can make is to eat less food that is high in cholesterol and eat more fruits, vegetables, and foods low in cholesterol. For some people, medication may be the best option to help lower their levels.
High cholesterol is also connected to increased risk for having strokes. Next week, I’m going to take a look at the connection between the two and what you can do about lowering your risk for having a stroke.