We’ve all been warned about high cholesterol. But do we really understand how detrimental it is to our bodies? Do we know what lifestyle changes can help?
Here’s a look at 10 horrible things high cholesterol can do to our bodies. (Check out page 11 where we share the ways you can prevent it.)
For starters: Hardened arteries
As Healthline tells us if you have too much low-density lipoprotein — or bad cholesterol — in your body, it can build up in your arteries. The waxy fat deposits it leaves build up over time and can make your arteries harden.
In other words, chest pain. The plaque build up in your arteries makes it difficult for oxygen to get to your heart via your bloodstream. In severe cases, the pain can spread from the chest into the shoulders, back arms, and even in the jaw, according to the American Heart Association.
If your heart isn’t getting enough oxygen, your brain isn’t either. Healthline tells us issues caused by high cholesterol such as stroke — more on that later — have been connected to memory loss. To make matters worse, high cholesterol has a direct connection to dementia.
Enough plaque build up can even cause your blood to clot. And this can happen at any point in your body. “When a clot forms in a vein deep in the body, it’s called deep vein thrombosis,” News In Health explains. “Deep vein blood clots typically occur in the lower leg or thigh.”
As you can tell, cholesterol has a major impact on your heart. If an artery clots and the heart muscles can’t get the oxygen they need, the muscles can die, Healthline explains. This is what causes a heart attack — and can lead to a plethora of other heart health issues.
Coronary artery disease
The scary thing about coronary artery disease is that it can start developing at a very young age. “Coronary artery disease begins in childhood, so that by the teenage years, there is evidence that plaques that will stay with us for life are formed in most people,” Edward A. Fisher, M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H., tells the American Heart Association.
Peripheral arterial disease
As previously mentioned, high cholesterol and blood clots can affect any part of the body. In some cases blocked arteries can result in peripheral arterial disease (PAD) which impacts the arteries in the legs. Saint Luke’s tells us “if you have PAD, it’s likely that arteries in other parts of your body are diseased, too. That puts you at high risk for a heart attack, other heart diseases, and stroke.”
The blockage of blood and oxygen to the brain due to high cholesterol may cause a stroke. And the results are terrifying. Stroke.org summarizes that natural emotional cues may be completely altered, and body parts can become weak, numb, and stiff for extended periods of time.
Transient ischemic attack
A TIA, also called a “mini stroke”, occurs when the body is able to relieve the blockage of a cholesterol-clogged artery on its own. This stroke may be marked by limbs becoming momentarily stiff and by facial muscles drooping. The American Stroke Association warns that a TIA, while it clears on its own, is still a reason to go straight to the emergency room.
High cholesterol and obesity are closely connected. Obesity can actually decrease good cholesterol levels while raising bad cholesterol and blood pressure. This can therefore induce diabetes, which makes risk factors caused by high cholesterol even worse.
Prevention: Maintain a healthy weight
Of course, weight loss can help with lowering bad cholesterol. But it’s not about being skinny — it’s about being a healthy weight. “Even losing a few pounds can provide you with cardiovascular benefits, so every step in the right direction is a step toward healthier living,” the American Heart Association says.
Prevention: Go for whole grains
Swapping refined flour products for whole grains can go a long way to lower cholesterol, Everyday Health says. Plus, whole grain products are high in fiber, keeping you fuller longer so you don’t reach for unhealthy foods. (And unhealthy foods can lead to obesity, which starts the whole dangerous cycle all over again.)
Prevention: Eat leafy greens and fruits
Greens such as spinach and kale contain components which directly help lower the risk of heart disease, Healtline says. “Dark leafy greens may also help lower cholesterol levels by binding to bile acids and making the body excrete more cholesterol,” they say. In addition, fruits and berries are high in fiber, which can lower bad cholesterol.
Prevention: Some form of activity every day
You don’t have to become a full-blown gym junkie. Mayo Clinic explains that moderate exercise on most days is the right medicine for lowering bad cholesterol. “Moderate physical activity can help raise high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, the “good” cholesterol. With your doctor’s OK, work up to at least 30 minutes of exercise a day.”
Or just don’t start smoking all together. Smoking cigarettes has been directly linked to raising bad cholesterol levels and blood pressure. Kicking this habit to the curb can help save you from experience the list of horrible ailments listed above.