Bad cholesterol is bad news – it can lead to heart disease, stroke, atherosclerosis, and other cardiovascular problems.
Bad cholesterol is known as Low-Density Lipoprotein Cholesterol or LDL Cholesterol. It can build up deposits inside blood vessel walls causing blockages that can lead to coronary heart disease or heart attacks.
Bad Cholesterol Defined
LDL cholesterol is a lipid or fat found in the blood. Too much bad cholesterol in the blood can increase the risk of developing heart disease and other health problems. As you grow older, your liver is less likely to remove LDL cholesterol.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 94 million U.S. adults aged 20 or older have cholesterol levels of more than 200 mg/dL. Twenty-eight million adults have total cholesterol levels higher than 240 mg/dL.1 And the cholesterol levels are harmful if they are above 240 mg/dL. (CDC 2021)
High cholesterol is normally found in people over 40 years, but it’s not uncommon in children and adolescents. 7% of U.S. children and adolescents aged between 6 to 19 have high total cholesterol levels. (CDC 2021)
Pre-existing medical conditions like chronic kidney disease, hypothyroidism, HIV/AIDS, diabetes, and lupus can also cause unhealthy cholesterol levels.
Symptoms and Causes of Bad Cholesterol
Many things can increase bad cholesterol levels, like eating foods high in saturated and trans fats, being overweight or obese, low to no exercise, excessive smoking or drinking, age, or a family history of high cholesterol.
The main symptoms of bad cholesterol include:
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Weakness or numbness
- The coldness of the arms and legs
- A bad taste in your mouth
In some cases, the symptoms may not even be noticeable at first and can lead to serious health complications.
Foods that Raise Bad Cholesterol Levels
Foods high in saturated fats and trans fats can raise bad cholesterol levels. Saturated fats are found in fatty meat, dairy products, and tropical oils (e.g., palm oil, coconut oil, and cocoa butter). Processed foods like pastries, cookies, crackers, and margarine have trans-fat.
Eating a high-fat diet can increase bad cholesterol levels.
How to Keep Bad Cholesterol Under Control
There are several things you can do to lower bad cholesterol levels. Consult your doctor and get a plan which includes dietary and lifestyle changes such as:
- Balanced diet – Maintaining a healthy food habit will not help control your cholesterol but will also aid in living a healthy life. Include food items like eggs, fruits, beans, nuts, oats, and leafy vegetables. You should avoid eating fried food, processed meat, fast food, white flour, and sugary desserts.
- Exercise often – Choose different forms of exercise at least a few times a week. It helps in increasing good cholesterol.
- Lose extra body weight – Health experts mention that having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more can put you at risk of high cholesterol. It’s important to lose those extra pounds from your body; it can directly improve your cholesterol levels.
- Quit drinking and smoking – It’s not impossible to quit smoking or drinking even if you are used to consuming them a lot. Consult with your primary care physician for help. Your doctor will guide you with the right plan.
- Take medication – A few medicines like statins and ezetimibe (Zetia) help maintain cholesterol levels in your body. If you can’t take statins or have a severe form of high cholesterol, you might get shots of PCSK9 inhibitors. These medicines help the liver remove more LDL from your blood. (Hoffman 2020)
When to Seek Medical Attention
In addition to lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking and eating a healthy diet, people with bad cholesterol levels over 160 mg/dL may need to take medication to lower their cholesterol. Speak to your doctor before taking any medicines.
If bad cholesterol goes untreated, it can lead to serious health consequences. Some heart diseases may not show symptoms early; be aware of the warning signs. Early detection of bad cholesterol through regular blood tests could save lives.
According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), the first cholesterol screening should be done between the age of 9 and 11 followed by screening every five years. (Mayo Clinic 2021)
Bad cholesterol is preventable and also treatable if diagnosed on time. As you age into your 40’s and beyond, it’s important to have regular annual check-ups to be sure you’re not developing bad cholesterol and the health complications that go along with it.
CDC, Staff. “High Cholesterol Facts.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 27 Sept. 2021, www.cdc.gov/cholesterol/facts.htm.
Hoffman, Matthew. “LDL Cholesterol: Definition, Risks, and How to Lower It.” WebMD, WebMD, 9 Mar. 2020, www.webmd.com/heart-disease/ldl-cholesterol-the-bad-cholesterol.
Mayo Clinic, Staff. “High Cholesterol.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 20 July 2021, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-cholesterol/symptoms-causes/syc-20350800.