Cholesterol…the devils behind heart attack

October 02, 2008

It was a busy day for John. He attended the day long seminar in London and flew back to Texas the same day. He then had to attend his cousin’s engagement. The party went on till late night and he danced by the hours. The busy schedule of the day was forgotten in the night’s party. However it was tough for John’s wife to take him back home in a half drunken state. He then slept like a kid. All not through… But the unfortunate part is that he still continues to sleep…the next day never existed in his life’s itinerary. He suffered a massive heart attack and never woke up. The anger in his wife’s mind is now converted to sorrow for her husband.

Heart attack is one of the most common causes of untimely deaths in developed countries. High levels of cholesterol is one of the reasons behind it and this excess cholesterol gets deposited on the blood vessels to give rise to clogged arteries and veins and hence disrupted blood supply. This gives rise to interrupted blood supply in the body and the excessive pressure on the heart gives rise to heart attack.

Over 26 million Americans have high cholesterol. Heart disease is the leading killer of both men and women after the age of 45. High cholesterol is responsible for 70% of heart disease. It leads to arterial blockage, heart attacks, hardening of the arteries, blood clots, clogged arteries, and stroke. High cholesterol it is not just a disease which effects adults. More and more it is being discovered that our teenagers and even preteens are walking around with this potentially life threatening condition!

Cholesterol is actually an essential part of every cell’s structure. It is needed for proper brain and nerve function and is the basis for the manufacture of sex hormones as well.

To understand this apparent contradiction as to how cholesterol can be both “bad” and “good”, it is important to understand that cholesterol is manufactured in the liver and transported through the bloodstream to the sites where it is needed. Since It is a fatty substance; and because blood is mainly water; it has to latch on to molecules called lipoproteins in order to travel around successfully.

When we talk about “good” and “bad” cholesterol, we are actually distinguishing between the two different types of lipoproteins cholesterol latches on to:

1. High density lipoproteins (HDL’s) are considered “good cholesterol” because they carry unneeded cholesterol away from the cells and back to the liver, where it is broken down for removal from the body. If everything is functioning as it should, this system remains in balance. However, if there is too much cholesterol for the HDLs to pick up promptly, or if there are not enough HDLs to do the job, cholesterol can form plaque that sticks to artery walls and may eventually cause heart disease.

2. Low density lipoproteins (LDL’s) are the major transporters of cholesterol in the bloodstream and are considered “bad cholesterol” because they carry fats out of the liver to the blood vessels. LDLs seem to encourage the deposit of cholesterol in the arteries.

Diet can play an important role in lowering your cholesterol. A few simple tweaks to your diet — like these — may be enough to lower your cholesterol to a healthy level and help you stay off medications.

Oatmeal and oat bran

Oatmeal contains soluble fiber, which reduces your low-density lipoprotein (LDL), the “bad” cholesterol. Soluble fiber is also found in such foods as kidney beans, apples, pears, psyllium, barley and prunes.

Soluble fiber appears to reduce the absorption of cholesterol in your intestines. Ten grams or more of soluble fiber a day decreases your total and LDL cholesterol. Eating 1 1/2 cups of cooked oatmeal provides 6 grams of fiber. If you add fruit, such as bananas, you’ll add about 4 more grams of fiber . To mix it up a little, try steel-cut oatmeal or cold cereal made with oatmeal or oat bran.

Walnuts, almonds and more

Studies have shown that walnuts can significantly reduce blood cholesterol. Rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids, walnuts also help keep blood vessels healthy and elastic. Almonds appear to have a similar effect, resulting in a marked improvement within just four weeks.

A cholesterol-lowering diet in which 20 percent of the calories come from walnuts may reduce LDL cholesterol by as much as 12 percent. But all nuts are high in calories, so a handful (no more than 2 ounces or 57 grams) will do. As with any food, eating too much can cause weight gain, and being overweight places you at higher risk of heart disease. To avoid gaining weight, replace foods high in saturated fat with nuts. For example, instead of using cheese, meat or croutons in your salad, add a handful of walnuts or almonds

Fish and omega-3 fatty acids

Research has supported the cholesterol-lowering benefits of eating fatty fish because of its high levels of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids also help the heart in other ways such as reducing blood pressure and the risk of blood clots. In people who have already had heart attacks, fish oil — or omega-3 fatty acids — significantly reduces the risk of sudden death.

Doctors recommend eating at least two servings of fish a week. The highest levels of omega-3 fatty acids are in mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines, albacore tuna and salmon. However, to maintain the heart-healthy benefits of fish, bake or grill it. If you don’t like fish, you can also get omega-3 fatty acids from foods like ground flax seed or canola oil.

You can take an omega-3 or fish oil supplement to get some of the beneficial effects, but you won’t get all the other nutrients in fish, like selenium. If you decide to take a supplement, just remember to watch your diet and eat lean meat or vegetables in place of fish.

Olive oil

Olive oil contains a potent mix of antioxidants that can lower your “bad” (LDL) cholesterol but leave your “good” (HDL) cholesterol untouched.

The Food and Drug Administration recommends using about 2 tablespoons (23 grams) of olive oil a day to get its heart-healthy benefits. To add olive oil to your diet, you can saute vegetables in it, add it to a marinade, or mix it with vinegar as a salad dressing. You can also use olive oil as a substitute for butter when basting meat.

Some research suggests that the cholesterol-lowering effects of olive oil are even greater if you choose extra-virgin olive oil, meaning the oil is less processed and contains more heart-healthy antioxidants. But avoid “light” olive oils. This label usually means the oil is more processed and lighter in color, not fat or calories.

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