HealthView column: Excess cholesterol is a risk to your heart

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Each year, approximately 610,000 people in the United States die of heart disease. This accounts for 25 percent of deaths. The most common type of heart disease is coronary heart disease, also called coronary artery disease (CAD). Common risk factors for developing CAD are tobacco use, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and a family history of premature coronary artery disease. CAD is caused by blockages in the arteries, which feed the heart muscle. The main component of these blockages is cholesterol.

What exactly is cholesterol? Cholesterol is a waxy substance produced by the liver. Not all cholesterol is bad; in fact, it is an important cellular building block. However, your liver naturally produces all of the cholesterol needed to build cells. The rest of the cholesterol in our bodies comes primarily from foods derived from animals such as beef, poultry, egg yolks and full fat dairy. All of these foods are high in saturated and trans fats, which stimulate the liver to produce more cholesterol.

It is this excess cholesterol that causes a problem. When we have more cholesterol than the body needs to perform its cell-building function, the cholesterol starts to accumulate in our artery walls. It first appears in the arteries as a “fatty streak.” Studies have shown that people who eat a typical American diet can start developing fatty streaks during childhood. Over time, as more cholesterol accumulates in the artery wall, it develops into plaque. The plaque triggers an inflammatory response, and the body sends in helper cells to try to clean up the mess. Unfortunately, these helper cells change the cholesterol matrix and can actually make the plaque worse. The body then begins to lay down calcium in the artery wall at the site of the plaque buildup to create a roof over the plaque to keep the cholesterol matrix separate from the blood that is pulsing through the artery. This process can go on for many years until the plaque either slowly becomes big enough to limit the blood flow, or the plaque ruptures. Plaque rupture means that the roof that was covering the cholesterol cracks, or falls off altogether, and suddenly the blood is exposed to the cholesterol matrix in the plaque. The body sees this as an injury and it starts to form a clot at the site of the “injury.” This clot limits the blood flow to the heart that is downstream from the clot. Limited or no blood flow means less oxygen, and not enough oxygen to the heart means heart attack.

Because plaque development is a lifelong process, in 2018 the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology Guidelines on Lipid Management recommended screening the general population for high cholesterol starting at age 20. This involves a blood test to check for your levels of cholesterol. Together, in conversation with your health care provider, your overall risk of …read more

Source:: Daily times


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