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What is high cholesterol and how can you treat it?

The structure of an artery is similar to a straw. Both are hollow and allow for the passage of fluids. In the same way that drinking a shake that is too thick can clog up a straw, eating unhealthy foods can block an artery. Over time, the passage can become blocked completely, causing a heart attack or stroke. To reduce the risk of getting to that point, it is important to understand what cholesterol is and how it ties into health. 

What is the condition?
Cholesterol is a waxy substance that is found in the blood stream. The body uses it to digest foods and make vitamin D and hormones. Cholesterol can also enter the body through certain foods. It is broken down into two different categories. In short, there are good kinds of cholesterol, also known as HDL, and there are the bad types, commonly called LDL.

The goal is to achieve a healthy level of both, meaning less than 100 mg/dL of LDL and 40 mg/dL or higher of HDL. An imbalance in either type of cholesterol can cause health issues. 

Additionally, triglycerides also play a role in cholesterol, even though they are a type of fat. They are stored in the body and later used for energy. If a person eats more fatty foods, then he or she will accumulate more triglycerides than his or her body can use.

A person should maintain healthy cholesterol levels because they relate directly to heart health. Someone with high cholesterol is at a higher risk of having a heart attack, stroke or coronary heart disease.

How is it caused?
High cholesterol can happen to anyone and often goes undetected. It is caused by a number of factors - lifestyle being the main one.

A poor diet that is heavy in saturated fats contributes to high cholesterol, as does physical inactivity, genetics and a person's age. Habits like smoking and taking steroids put a person at higher risk of high cholesterol, and so do certain medical conditions, such as obesity and diabetes.

What are the symptoms?
The only way to detect high cholesterol is through doctor's visits, as no symptoms accompany the disease. For this reason, high cholesterol is often called the silent killer.

A patient typically gets his or her cholesterol measured for the first time when he or she turns 20, then subsequently every five to six years. Some circumstances may require more frequent testing, for example, having a family history of high cholesterol or smoking cigarettes. 

How can you treat high cholesterol?
Once a physician has determined that a person has high cholesterol, treatment is important so the issue does not escalate to complications resulting in heart disease, stroke and other diseases. Depending on person's HDL, LDL and triglyceride levels, a doctor may prescribe statin, which lowers cholesterol by preventing a chemical in the body from making more of it.

Like many other diseases, high cholesterol calls for a complete lifestyle change. Proper diet and regular exercise are also important in maintaining healthy levels of cholesterol. 

Can supplements help?
Certain supplements along with healthier diet may also help get cholesterol under control. A doctor is the best person to decide which supplements will work for a person with high cholesterol. Options include:

  • Garlic
  • Omega-3
  • Niacin
  • Barley
  • Green tea.

Further, the aforementioned supplements contribute to a healthy lifestyle, which means taking them can potentially reduce the risk of getting high cholesterol in the first place. Investing in them can save a person from excessive medical bills, doctor's visits and health issues.

Not to mention, the supplements can potentially offer a person benefits that span beyond cholesterol treatment. 


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