Health: Cholesterol, Digestive System, Heart, Blood Pressure and Liver

Everyone wants to be healthy. To some, being healthy may mean being free from illnesses. Some may believe that being healthy means having a lean body.

Putting aside superficial assumptions on its definition, the World Health Organization defined health as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease of infirmity”. Meaning, being healthy does not simply put all implication on an individual’s physical aspects.

In order to be mentally and socially healthy to the fullest, a person must first be physically healthy. Important aspects of physical health such as cholesterol, digestive health, and liver health maintenance must be kept within the balance. Preventing diabetes and keeping the heart healthy are also important.

Maintain Healthy Cholesterol Levels

Cholesterol is a fat lipid found in blood. It is a waxy substance that is produced by the body or come from the food we eat. Cholesterol helps the support of cell membranes and hormones, vitamin D, and bile productions.

There are two types of cholesterol: LDL and HDL. LDL (low-density lipoprotein) or “bad cholesterol” carries mostly fat and only a small amount of protein.

High levels of LDL cholesterol can increase the risks for heart diseases, heart attacks, and stroke. LDL cholesterol accumulates in the artery walls, making them hard and narrow (Mayo Clinic, n.d.).

On the other hand, HDL (high-density lipoprotein) or “good cholesterol” helps the liver dispose cholesterol by binding with cholesterol in the bloodstream. High levels of HDL cholesterol helps decrease the risks of heart diseases and complications.

Cholesterol levels rise or fall depending on age, gender, food intake, family history, weight, and physical activity (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, n.d.).

Smoking, obesity, large waist circumference, poor diet, lack of exercise, and diabetes are risk factors that can increase the chances of having high cholesterol (Mayo Clinic, n.d.). Cholesterol levels rise at the age of 20 and there are no symptoms of high cholesterol. The only way to detect high cholesterol is through a blood test.

Foods that raise cholesterol levels are those that come from animals such as meat and dairy products, both of which contain saturated fats. Seafood such as lobsters and crabs are also loaded in cholesterol. Though chicken may often be considered low-fat meat, if fried with its skin on, it can raise cholesterol levels.

Liver is also high in cholesterol though it is rich in iron. Whole-fat dairy products such as ice cream and cheese are loaded with saturated fats that can cause high cholesterol especially if taken excessively. Coconut and its by-products also have saturated fat, but if taken in small amounts, it will not increase cholesterol levels. Other foods include added sugars, mashed potatoes, pizza, pastries, and butter.

To lower cholesterol levels, an individual must be wary of his/her food intake by selecting healthier fats (monounsaturated fats) and whole grain food products. Food that lower cholesterols include high-fiber foods such as oats, beans, apples, barley, prunes, and pears that can reduce LDL.

Fish and omega-3 fatty acids can reduce blood pressure and clotting. Fish that contain high levels of omega-3 are mackerel, sardine, salmon, halibut, and tuna. Nuts, tea, garlic, chocolate, olive oil, fruits, vegetables, and tea also reduce cholesterol levels. These foods mentioned make up the lower cholesterol diet.

Cholesterol levels can also be regulated by means of natural cholesterol lowering methods. A diet consisting of low-saturated fat that includes fat-free or 1 percent dairy products, no trans fat, maintenance of calories taken per day, and the foods mentioned above can easily reduce cholesterol. Losing weight also helps reduce LDL and decreases the chances of low HDL especially for those who are overweight.

In some cases, cholesterol levels do not simply decrease even with proper diet and physical activities. For others, medication will be needed. Cholesterol-lowering drugs are prescribed by doctors to those who have difficulty balancing their cholesterol levels.

These drugs are also associated with the prevention of heart attacks and strokes. Drugs that lower cholesterol include statins, drugs that are effective in lowering LDL; bile acid sequestrants, drugs that also lower LDL and may be combined with statin drugs; fibric acids, drugs that lower LDL but mainly used to treat low HDL levels; cholesterol absorption inhibitors, drugs that also reduce LDL, and nicotinic acids, drugs that lower LDL and increase HDL (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, n.d.).

Improve Digestive Health

The digestive system is not absent of problems that can compromise its digestive processes and bring discomfort to an individual. The most common digestive system problems are constipation, diarrhea, acid reflux, and hemorrhoids (The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, 2014).

Constipation is characterized by having firm and hard-to-pass stools with less than three bowel movements a week. It can be caused by little consumption of water and fiber, medications, changes in routine, and even pregnancy due to increased level of hormones that can affect digestive processes. Constipation can be prevented by drinking plenty of fluids, exercising, and increasing fiber in food intake.

Diarrhea, in contrast with constipation, involves having three or more loose bowel movements a day with occasional cramping. It is caused by bacteria or viruses through contaminated food or water, consumption of dairy products, artificial sweeteners, or additives, and medication.

Common remedies in treating diarrhea is by drinking plenty of fluids in order to replace wasted fluids (water and sports drinks), consuming foods that contain salt, and avoiding dairy products, soda, and juices.

Acid reflux is a condition in which gastric fluid backs up into the esophagus causing a burning sensation in the chest and throat. This sensation is sometimes called heartburn. Acid reflux can be prevented and controlled by having less but more frequent meals, elevating the head when sleeping, stopping smoking, and avoiding foods and drinks that can worsen symptoms.

Hemorrhoids are characterized by swollen and inflamed veins in the anus and lower rectum that can cause rectal bleeding, itching, and rectal pain. It is commonly caused by pregnancy, constipation, standing or sitting for long periods, and being overweight. Hemorrhoids can be relieved with ice packs or sitting in a tub of warm water to reduce swelling. Hemorrhoid creams and suppositories also help treat hemorrhoids.

In order to keep the digestive system healthy, one must keep in mind what is the best food for digestive health. There are ways to keep the digestive system healthy, such as increasing fiber and fluid intake (water) and reducing fat, spices, alcohol, dairy products, and beverages such as coffee and soda. Yoghurt, kimchi, lean meat and fish, whole grains, bananas, and ginger are the best foods for digestive health.

Improve liver system

The liver is the organ responsible for filtering blood from the digestive system, removing toxins from the body, and processing food nutrients for metabolism. However, certain conditions such as fat accumulation, viral infection, toxic damage, alcohol misuse, and cancer can cause the liver to perform its functions inefficiently.

Liver problem symptoms include nausea, dark-colored urine, appetite and weight loss, bloated abdomen, vomiting, jaundice, diarrhea, and fevers. In improving liver system, an individual must consume proper and detoxifying foods like apples, garlic, avocadoes, walnuts, green leafy vegetables, broccoli, cabbage, smoothies, juices, salads, soups, and fermented foods.

Eliminate processed and artificial food additives, colors, and preservatives. Avoid eating large meals, and heavy and fatty foods. These are some of the basic guidelines to improve liver health.

Living with Diabetes

Diabetes is a long term condition caused by high blood sugar levels. There are three types of diabetes: Type 1, Type 2, and gestational diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is characterized by the body’s inability to produce insulin. Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body does not produce enough insulin for proper function. Gestational diabetes on the other hand, occurs during pregnancy.

What cause diabetes? Diabetes may be caused by heredity. Heredity factors determine how susceptible an individual is on acquiring diabetes and it plays a significant part in the acquisition of Type 1 diabetes. Obesity and hypokinesis are also causes of diabetes. Caloric intake imbalance and lack of physical activities can cause the body to resist insulin and is not uncommon to people with Type 2 diabetes.

Hormonal imbalances also play a role in causing diabetes when these hormones also resist insulin. Hormonal imbalances are not uncommon to pregnant women and is often the cause of gestational diabetes.

A person must know what are symptoms of diabetes in the event that their bodies might be seriously compromised if not given immediate action. Common symptoms are itching around the genital area, cuts or wounds that do not heal easily, blurred vision, thirst, urinating more frequently than usual, weight loss, hyperventilation, nausea, fatigue, and irritability. All these are also hyperglycemia or sugar diabetes symptoms.

According to Mayo Clinic, there are five ways on how to avoid diabetes.

First, is to be physically active. Exercising and losing weight can lower blood sugar and boost the body’s sensitivity to insulin.

Second, increase fiber intake. Fiber reduces the risks of diabetes and heart diseases, and controls blood sugar levels.

Third, incorporate whole grains in diet. Whole grains help maintain blood sugar levels and reduces the risks of diabetes.

Fourth, lose weight. Being overweight increases the chances of acquiring diabetes.

And fifth, make healthier food choices and avoid fad diets such as low-carb diet.

There is no definite cure for diabetes; however, there are treatments used to help maintain blood sugar levels and alleviate the symptoms of diabetes. All types of diabetes can be treated by eating healthy (fruits, vegetables, and whole grain) and engaging in daily physical activities.

In severe cases, treatments may involve monitoring blood sugar levels using glucose monitoring devices, insulin therapy and other medications, pancreas transplantation, and bariatric surgery (Mayo Clinic, n.d.).

Improve Hearth Health

A common cause of heart diseases is smoking (even inhaling secondhand smoke). This often follows other causes such as high blood pressure, high blood sugar levels, blood vessel inflammation, and high cholesterol levels in the blood (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, n.d.).

Over time, plaques may form that may rupture or make arteries narrow, which can reduce the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the heart, which may cause chest pains or heart attacks. Low estrogen levels before or after menopause can also cause heart diseases.

Aside from good food and physical activity, there are other ways on how to keep your heart healthy, such as keeping blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels at the balance, taking heart health supplements, keeping a healthy weight, drinking less alcohol, and avoiding tobacco.

There are also certain strategies for hearth disease prevention, such as exercising for 30 minutes for most days of the week, eating a healthy diet consisting of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, minimizing saturated fat intake found in red meat, dairy products and oils, maintaining normal weight, getting enough sleep, and monitoring blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and glucose levels.

The proper foods for heart health are those rich in nutrients, fiber, and healthy fats. Superfoods for heart health include salmon, sardines, liver, oatmeal, blueberries, walnuts, almonds, dark chocolate, chia seeds, citrus fruits, soy, oatmeal, potatoes, coffee, tomatoes, and red wine. These super-foods are proved to keep the heart healthy and prevent heart diseases.