Whether or not you have diabetes, cholesterol can play a big role in your health. Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance made in the liver and found in certain foods, such as dairy products, eggs, and meat.
The body only needs a small amount of cholesterol in order to function properly. When there is too much cholesterol, health problems such as heart disease may develop.
People with diabetes should have their blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels checked at least once every year. Since having diabetes already puts you at risk for heart disease, it's especially important to keep your cholesterol levels in check.
What Is Coronary Heart Disease?
When there is too much cholesterol in the body, plaque (a thick, hard deposit) may form in the arteries, narrowing the space for blood to flow. Over time, this buildup causes atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) which can lead to heart disease.
When not enough oxygen-carrying blood reaches the heart, chest pain -- called angina -- can result. If the blood supply to a portion of the heart is completely cut off by total blockage of a coronary artery, the result is a heart attack. This is usually due to a sudden closure from a blood clot forming on top of a narrow spot.
Types of Blood Fat
Cholesterol travels through the blood attached to a protein -- this cholesterol-protein package is called a lipoprotein. Lipoproteins are classified as high density, low density, or very low density. Another blood fat or lipid is called triglycerides.
- Low density lipoproteins (LDL): LDL, also called "bad" cholesterol, can cause buildup of plaque on the walls of arteries. The more LDL there is in the blood, the greater the risk of heart disease.
- High density lipoproteins (HDL): HDL, also called "good" cholesterol, helps the body get rid of bad cholesterol in the blood. The higher the level of HDL cholesterol, the better. If your levels of HDL are low, your risk of heart disease increases.
- Triglycerides/very low density lipoproteins (VLDL): While triglycerides are not the same as cholesterol, they are another type of fat that increases the risk of heart disease and are carried in the blood by very low density lipoproteins. Only a small amount of triglycerides is normally found in the blood; most are stored in fat tissue. VLDL is similar to LDL cholesterol in that it contains mostly fat and not much protein. A high triglyceride level, along with high LDL cholesterol, can increase the risk of heart attack.
What Factors Affect Lipid Levels?
A variety of factors can affect your cholesterol levels. They include:
- Diet. Saturated fat and cholesterol in the food you eat increase cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
- Weight. In addition to being a risk factor for heart disease, being overweight can also increase your cholesterol. Losing weight can help lower your LDL and total cholesterol levels, as well as increase HDL cholesterol.
- Exercise. Regular exercise can lower LDL cholesterol and raise HDL cholesterol. You should try to be physically active for 30 minutes on most days.
- Age and Gender. As we get older, cholesterol levels rise. Before menopause, women tend to have lower total cholesterol levels than men of the same age. After menopause, however, women's LDL levels tend to rise.
- Heredity. Your genes partly determine how much cholesterol your body makes. High blood cholesterol can run in families.
- Other causes. Certain medications and medical conditions can cause high cholesterol and triglyceride.