High cholesterol levels can cause atherosclerosis, a chronic disease affecting the medium and large arteries.
The arteries become progressively stiff and obstructed by atherosclerotic plaques. Atherosclerosis affects the entire artery tree, but mostly larger, high-pressure vessels such as the coronary, renal, femoral, cerebral, and carotid arteries.
“Atherosclerosis is a chronic disease that can remain asymptomatic for decades,” Dr Joseph Mucumbitsi, the president of the Rwanda Heart Foundation, says.
The complications of advanced atherosclerosis are chronic, slowly progressive and cumulative. Most commonly, soft plaque suddenly ruptures, causing the formation of a clot that will rapidly slow or stop blood flow, leading to death of the tissues fed by the artery in approximately 5 minutes. This catastrophic event is called an infraction. One of the most common recognized scenarios is called coronary thrombosis of one of the coronary arteries that supply blood and oxygen to the heart, causing myocardial infarction or ‘heart attack’.
“This will cause sudden chest pain and discomfort which has to be recognized and managed very quickly to prevent death”, said Dr. Mucumbitsi. When that happens in an artery in the brain a stroke occurs.
Things to cut from your diet
Saturated fats. The saturated fats found in red meat, milk and other dairy foods, and coconut and palm oils directly boost LDL.
Trans fats. Trans fats (name for unsaturated fat) boost LDL as much as saturated fats do. They also lower protective HDL cholesterol [the “good cholesterol”], revs up inflammation, and increase the tendency for blood clots to form inside blood vessels.
Getting no more than two grams of trans fats a day is recommended. Less is even better. Doctors advise people to look on the label of packaged foods such as cookies and crackers to make sure they don’t have trans fats. Fried foods in restaurants can also contain them. Regular exercise is also recommended because excess weight boosts LDL, while inactivity depresses HDL.
A diet that is heavy in fruits, vegetables, beans, and nuts is good for the body in ways beyond lowering cholesterol. It keeps blood pressure in check. It helps arteries stay flexible and responsive. It’s good for bones, digestive health, vision, and even mental health.”
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a lipid (fat) which is produced by the liver. It is vital for normal body function, and every cell in our body has it in its outer layer.
LDL (low-density lipoprotein) collects in the walls of blood vessels, causing the blockages of atherosclerosis. Higher LDL levels put you at greater risk for a heart attack from a sudden blood clot in an artery.
Doctors say not all cholesterol is bad. It’s an essential fat that provides support in the membranes of our bodies’ cells. Some cholesterol comes from diet and some is made by the liver.
Cholesterol can’t dissolve in blood, so transport proteins carry it where it needs to go. These carriers are called lipoproteins, and LDL is one member of the lipoprotein family.