Cholesterol, a yellowish fatty substance, is one of the essential ingredients of the body. Although it is essential to life, cholesterol has a bad reputation for being a major villain in heart disease. Every person with high blood cholesterol is regarded as a potential candidate for a heart attack, stroke, or high blood pressure.
Cholesterol is a building block of the outer membrane of cells. It is the principal ingredient in the digestive juice bile, in the fatty sheaths that insulate nerves, and in sex hormones, namely, estrogen and androgen. It performs several functions, such as the transportation of fat, providing a defense mechanism, protecting red blood cells, and maintaining the muscular membrane of the body.
Most of the cholesterol found in the body is produced in the liver. However, about 20 to 30 percent generally comes from the foods we eat. Some cholesterol is also secreted into the intestinal tract in bile and becomes mixed with dietary cholesterol.
The percentage of ingested cholesterol absorbed seemed to average 40 to 50 percent of the intake. The body excretes extra cholesterol from the system through the bowels and kidneys. The amount of cholesterol is measured in milligrams per 100 milliliters of blood.
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Normal blood cholesterol levels vary between 150 and 250 mg per 100 mL. Persons with atherosclerosis have uniformly high blood cholesterol, usually above 250 mg per 100 ml. In the blood, cholesterol is bound to certain proteins called lipoproteins, which have an affinity for blood fats, known as lipids. There are two main types of lipoproteins: a low-density one (LDL) and a high- density one (HDL).
Low-density lipoprotein is considered harmful and is associated with cholesterol deposits in blood vessels. The higher the ratio of LDL to total cholesterol, the greater the risk of arterial damage and heart disease.
The results of the most comprehensive research study, commissioned by the National Heart and Lung Institute of the U.S.A., were announced about four years ago.
The 10-year study, considered the most elaborate and expensive research project in medical history, indicates that heart disease is directly linked to the level of cholesterol in the blood and that lowering cholesterol significantly reduces the incidence of heart attacks.
It is estimated that for every one percent reduction in cholesterol, the risk of a heart attack decreases by two percent.
Causes of High Blood Cholesterol
Hyperchjolsterolaemia or an increase in cholesterol is mainly a digestive problem caused by rich foods such as fried foods, excessive consumption of milk and its products like ghee, butter, and cream, white flour, sugar, cakes, pastries, biscuits, cheese, ice cream as well as non-vegetarian foods like meat, fish, and eggs.
Other causes of an increase in cholesterol include dietary changes, smoking, and alcohol consumption. Stress is a major cause of increased levels of cholesterol.
Adrenaline and cortisol are both released in the body under stress. This, in turn, produces a fat-metabolizing reaction. The adrenal glands of aggressive, executive-type people produce more adrenaline than the adrenal glands of easy-going men. Consequently, they suffer six to eight times more heart attacks than relaxed men.
To reduce the risk of heart disease, it is essential to lower the level of LDL and increase the level of HDL. This can be achieved by improving the diet and changing the lifestyle.
Diet is the most important factor.
As a first step, foods rich in cholesterol and saturated fats, which lead to an increase in LDL levels, should be reduced to the minimum. Cholesterol-rich foods are eggs, high-cholesterol organ meats, and most cheese, butter, bacon, beef, and whole milk; virtually all foods of animal origin, as well as two vegetable oils, namely coconut, and palm, are high in saturated fats, and these should be replaced by polyunsaturated fats such as corn, safflower, soybean, and sesame oils, which tend to lower the level of LDL.
There are monosaturated fats such as olive and peanut oils that have a more or less neutral effect on the LDL level. The American Heart Association recommends that men restrict themselves to 300 mg of cholesterol a day and women to 275 mg.
It also prescribes that fat should not make up more than 30 percent of the diet, and not more than one-third of this should be saturated. The Association, however, urges a somewhat strict regimen for those who already have elevated levels of cholesterol.
The amount of fiber in the diet also influences cholesterol levels, and fiber-rich diets can lower LDL cholesterol. The most significant sources of dietary fiber are unprocessed wheat bran, whole cereals such as wheat, rice, barley, and rye; legumes such as potato, carrot, beet, and turnips; fruits like mango and guava; and green vegetables such as cabbage, lady’s finger, lettuce, and celery.
Oat bran is especially beneficial for lowering LDL cholesterol. Lecithin, also a fatty food substance and the most abundant of the phospholipids, is highly beneficial in cases of increased cholesterol levels. It can break up cholesterol into small particles, which can be easily handled by the system. With a sufficient intake of lecithin, cholesterol cannot build up against the walls of the arteries and veins.
It also increases the production of bile acids made from cholesterol, thereby reducing its amount in the blood. Egg yolk, vegetable oils, whole grain cereals, soybeans, and unpasteurized milk are rich sources of lecithin.
The cells of the body are also capable of synthesizing it as needed if several of the B vitamins are present. Diets high in vitamin B6, choline, and inositol supplied by the wheat germ, yeast, or B vitamins extracted from bran have been particularly effective in reducing blood cholesterol.
Sometimes vitamin E elevates blood lecithin and reduces cholesterol, presumably by preventing the essential fatty acids from being destroyed by oxygen.
Persons with high blood cholesterol levels should drink at least eight to 10 glasses of water every day, as regular drinking of water stimulates the excretory activities of the skin and kidneys. This in turn facilitates the elimination of excessive cholesterol from the system. Regularly drinking coriander (dhania) water also helps lower blood cholesterol as it is a good diuretic and stimulates the kidneys.
It is prepared by boiling dry seeds of coriander and straining the decoction after cooling. Regular exercise also plays an important role in lowering LDL cholesterol and raising the level of protective HDL.
It also promotes circulation and helps maintain blood flow to every part of the body. Jogging or brisk walking, swimming, bicycling, and playing badminton are excellent forms of exercise. Yogasnas are highly beneficial as they help increase perspiration and stimulate the sebaceous glands to effectively secrete accumulated or excess cholesterol from the muscular tissue. Asanas like Ardhamatsyaendrasana, Shalabhasana, Padmasana, and Vajrasana are useful in lowering blood cholesterol by increasing systemic activity.
Hydrotherapy can be successfully employed in reducing excess cholesterol. Cold hip baths for 10 minutes taken twice every day have proved beneficial. Steam baths are also beneficial, except in patients with hypertension or other circulatory disorders. Mud packs, applied over the abdomen, improve digestion and assimilation. They improve the functioning of the liver and other digestive organs and activate the kidneys and intestines to promote better excretion.