Dyslipidemia refers to the abnormal level of cholesterol and other lipids (fats) in the blood. Cholesterol is a waxy substance found in the blood which our liver makes to protect the nerves, make cell tissues and certain hormones. However, high levels of cholesterol can increase the chances of heart diseases. Hence, it becomes important to maintain a healthy range.
High cholesterol levels can lead to the deposition of fats in the blood vessels, eventually making it difficult for blood to flow through the arteries. These deposits may break and form a clot in the arteries, further increasing the risk of heart attack or stroke.
Lipoproteins, Triglycerides and their relation with dyslipidemia
Cholesterol does not dissolve in the blood. Therefore, it has to attach to protein complexes to be transported through the bloodstream. This combination of protein and cholesterol (lipid) is known as lipoprotein.
The different types of lipoproteins are:
1. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL): Also known as "bad" cholesterol, LDL transports cholesterol particles throughout the body. It accumulates in the walls of the arteries, making them hard and narrow.
2. High-density lipoprotein (HDL): Also known as "good" cholesterol, HDL helps to clear up excess cholesterol in the blood and transports it back to the liver. High LDL levels and low HDL levels can result in dyslipidemia.
Triglycerides are another type of fat molecules found in the blood. When we consume more calories than what our body needs, the unutilised calories are converted into triglycerides, which are stored in fat cells. Most of these triglycerides are used at a later point by the body to release energy in-between meals. However, excess buildup of triglycerides in the blood can cause dyslipidemia.
Causes of dyslipidemia:
Sedentary and inactive lifestyles, obesity, and an unhealthy diet are some controllable factors that can contribute to elevated cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Other factors that cause dyslipidemia include conditions like chronic kidney disease, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, hypothyroidism, and Lupus. Cholesterol levels can also be adversely affected by certain medications such as acne, cancer, high blood pressure, HIV/AIDS, irregular heartbeats, and organ transplants.
Assessing the lipid profile:
Relying only on checking the total cholesterol levels does not give a clear idea of the lipid profile. Total cholesterol includes HDL, LDL, as well as VLDL. This cumulative number in itself doesn’t precisely help assess any health risks. Both HDL and LDL levels should be tested. We need to focus majorly on attaining high levels of HDL and controlled levels of LDL, VLDL, and triglycerides. If triglycerides and VLDL level rises, the body gets insulin resistant, which can further lead to diabetes.
How to manage cholesterol with diet and lifestyle modification:
1. Drop unhealthy eating habits like excess intake of saturated fats or trans fats as it can lead to imbalanced cholesterol levels. Saturated fats are found in red meats and full-fat dairy products. Trans fats are generally found in packaged and processed food items.
2. A high BMI of more than 30 kg/m2 puts you at a greater risk of developing cholesterol issues. Therefore, it is important to maintain a normal BMI within the range of 18.5-24.9 kg/m2.
3. A person with a sedentary lifestyle is more prone to develop cholesterol problems. Thus, including exercise in daily routine helps increase the body’s good cholesterol.
4. Quit smoking as it can deplete the HDL levels in the body.
5. Consuming too much alcohol can raise the total cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the blood.
6. Cholesterol problems are more commonly seen in people over 40 years. With age, the liver becomes less effective in removing LDL or bad cholesterol from the body. Thus it becomes crucial to get the required tests done regularly.
7. Exercising atleast 3 hours/week is needed to ensure that the heart is functioning properly, and cholesterol, triglycerides, blood pressure, and sugar levels are in place.
8. Focus on including strength training atleast once to twice a week, as strength training gives an ‘after burn’, which allows the body to utilise more fat for the next 48 hours. This helps lower the triglyceride and VLDL levels, and raise the HDL levels, thereby maintaining a good lipid profile.
9. Stress causes poor sleep due to high levels of cortisol hormone. This can result in a disturbed lipid profile, gut issues, and liver problems. So try and get a minimum of seven hours of sleep every day.
10. Aim for at least 30g of fibre a day like oat bran, wholegrain cereals, fruits and vegetables, barley, pulses, lentils, legumes, nuts, and seeds.
11. Consume 1-2 garlic cloves early in the morning with warm water, as it has an anti-inflammatory effect that helps in lowering down cholesterol levels.
12. Include a good portion of green veggies and seasonal fruits in your diet as they are rich in antioxidants which help reduce oxidative stress and control lipid levels.