Cholesterol is a soft waxy substance that is a natural component of the fats in the bloodstream and in all the cells of the body. While cholesterol is an essential part of a healthy body, high levels of cholesterol in the blood (known as hypercholesterolemia) increase a person’s risk for cardiovascular disease, which can lead to stroke or heart attack. When there is too much cholesterol circulating in the blood, it can create sticky deposits (called plaque) along the artery walls. Plaque can eventually obstruct or even block the flow of blood to the brain, heart, and other organs. A recent report indicates that more and more Americans have high cholesterol — the condition is most common among those living in Western cultures. While heredity may be a factor for some people, increasingly sedentary lifestyles combined with diets high in saturated fats appear to be the main culprits.

The normal range for total blood cholesterol is between 140 and 200 mg per decilitre (mg/dL) of blood. Levels between 200 and 240 mg/dL indicate moderate risk, and levels surpassing 240 mg/dL indicate high risk. While total cholesterol level is important, it does not tell the whole story. There are two main types of cholesterol: low density lipoproteins (LDL) and high density lipoproteins (HDL). HDL is generally considered to be “good” cholesterol, while LDL is considered “bad.” Triglycerides are a third type of fatty material found in the blood. While their role in heart disease is not entirely clear, it appears that as triglyceride levels rise, levels of “good” cholesterol fall. It is the complex interaction of these three types of lipids that is thrown off when a person has hypercholesterolemia. High cholesterol is characterized by elevated levels of LDL cholesterol, normal or low levels of HDL cholesterol, and normal or elevated levels of triglycerides.

Signs and Symptoms

In its preliminary stages, high cholesterol generally occurs without any symptoms. For this reason, screening through routine blood tests is crucial for early detection. In its advanced state, however, high cholesterol may result in any of the following:

  • Fat deposits in the tendons and skin (called xanthomas)
  • Enlarged liver and spleen (which the healthcare provider may feel on exam)
  • Severe abdominal pain as a result of pancreatitis (this happens if triglycerides deposit in the pancreas, which may occur when triglyceride levels are 800 mg/dL or higher)
  • Chest pain and even a heart attack (this may occur when enough cholesterol has built up in blood vessel walls to block the flow of blood in the heart)

Causes

In some cases, abnormally high cholesterol may be related to an inherited disorder. Certain genetic causes of abnormal cholesterol and triglycerides, known as hereditary hyperlipidemias, are often very difficult to treat. High cholesterol or triglycerides can also be associated with other diseases a person may have, such as diabetes. In most cases, however, elevated cholesterol levels are associated with an overly fatty diet coupled with an inactive lifestyle. It is also more common in those who are obese, a condition that has now reached epidemic proportions in the United States, affecting as much as half of the adult population.

Causes of high total and LDL cholesterol levels include:

  • Hereditary hyperlipidemia (Types IIa or IIb)
  • Diets high in saturated fats and cholesterol
  • Liver disease
  • Underactive thyroid
  • Poorly controlled diabetes
  • Overactive pituitary gland (a gland in the brain that helps control hormones in the body)
  • A kidney disorder called nephrotic syndrome characterized by elevated cholesterol, loss of protein in the urine leading to low levels of protein in the blood, and excessive fluid retention causing swelling
  • Anorexia nervosa
  • Medications such as progestogens, cyclosporins, and thiazide diuretics

Causes of low HDL cholesterol include:

  • Malnutrition
  • Obesity
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Certain medications such as beta blockers and anabolic steroids
  • Low levels of physical activity
  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome (a hormonal disorder caused by multiple cysts in the ovaries accompanied by irregular or no menstruation, acne, obesity, and excessive facial hair)

Causes of high triglyceride levels include:

  • Hereditary hyperlipidemia (Types I, IIb, III, IV, or V)
  • Diets high in calories, especially from sugar and refined carbohydrates
  • Obesity
  • Poorly controlled diabetes
  • Insulin resistance (decreased effectiveness of insulin, a hormone that lowers blood sugar levels)
  • Alcohol use
  • Kidney failure
  • Stress
  • Pregnancy
  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome
  • Hepatitis
  • Lupus
  • Multiple myeloma (a rare disease that occurs more frequently in men than in women and is associated with anemia, bleeding, recurrent infections, and weakness)
  • Lymphoma (tumor of the lymphoid tissue)
  • Certain medications such as estrogens (available in either oral contraceptives or as part of hormone replacement therapy for menopausal women), corticosteroids, a class of cholesterol-lowering medications known as bile acid binding resins (including cholestyramine, colestipol, colesevelam), and isotretinoin (used to treat acne).

Integrative Medicine Treatment Options

We combine the best of conventional medicine with the best of complementary and alternative therapies to give you optimal results.

Here are some options we use at Alliance Integrative Medicine LOCATED IN Cincinnati, Ohio

  • Nutritional Counseling
  • Medication, Herbal Therapies and Supplements

Our hypercholesterolemia patients come to us from Indian Hill, Hyde Park, Loveland, Westchester/Liberty Township and Mason as well as Springdale, Terrace Park, Blue Ash, Finneytown, Reading and from all across the United States.