Hyperlipidemia is an elevation of lipid levels (fats) in the bloodstream. These lipids include cholesterol, cholesterol compounds, phospholipids and triglycerides, and all carried in the blood as part of large molecules called lipoproteins. There are three types of hyperlipidemias: hyperlipoproteinemia, hypercholesterolemia and hypertriglyceridemia.
It has been shown that people with a hyperlipidemia disorder are more likely to develop heart disease. A normal body makes enough cholesterol for its needs, but when there is too much cholesterol, it accumulates in arteries, which can lead to their narrowing (atherosclerosis) and to heart disease or stroke.
High-density lipoprotein (HDL) helps remove fat from the body by binding with it in the bloodstream and carrying it back to the liver for excretion in the bile and disposal. A high level of HDL may lower chances of developing heart disease or stroke. This is why HDL is often called the ‘good cholesterol’. Low–density lipoprotein (LDL) transports cholesterol outside the liver to other parts of the body. A high LDL level may increase chances of developing heart disease. That’s why LDL is called ‘bad cholesterol’. Generally speaking, LDL levels should be low, and HDL levels high.
Hyperlipidemia by itself does not cause symptoms, so people are generally not aware that their lipid levels are too high. Treatment depends on lipid levels, the presence of risk factors for heart disease, and general health. When lipid levels are not balanced, the goal is to bring them under control and this is first treated by modifying eating habits. To treat hyperlipidemia, a diet low in total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol is recommended, along with reducing or avoiding alcohol intake.
It is recommended to reduce intake of unhealthy fats and refined carbs and increase intake of soluble fiber and plant sterols. Refined sugars increase triglyceride levels, and patients should accordingly lower their intake of sugar, sweets, and other sugar-containing foods. Fruits and vegetables should be eaten as snacks, desserts, salads, side dishes.
Omega-3 fatty acids, found mainly in fatty fish and some plant products such as flax seed have a significant effect on triglyceride levels, and in large amounts (10g daily or more), they lower triglycerides by 40% or more. To achieve this dose however a patient should take supplements or eat large amounts of fatty fish (sardines, herring, mackerel). Omega-3 fatty acids may be especially beneficial to the heart decreasing the risk of coronary artery disease and helping lower blood pressure levels.
If dietary changes do not correct the hyperlipidemia, a course of drug therapy may be indicated. In the United States, men older than age 35 and post-menopausal women are generally candidates for lipid-lowering medications. Lipid-lowering medications include statin drugs (prevent the liver from manufacturing cholesterol), bile acid resins (prevent the body from reabsorbing the cholesterol present in bile), fibrates (particularly effective in treating high triglyceride levels).