Most healthy people manufacture adequate amounts of cholesterol, a waxy substance that is found in the cells of the body and important in a number of bodily functions. Cholesterol aids in digestion, synthesizing fat-soluble vitamins, and the production of certain hormones and other substances. Cholesterol moves through the bloodstream in lipoproteins, which are packages of fatty material covered by protein.The National Institute of Health identifies two major types of cholesterol:
In addition, it is important to recognize triglycerides, which are fatty substances that are manufactured from fatty foods people eat. They are necessary for normal cellular function at low levels, but at high levels, they present a potential health issue. Individuals with lipid disorders (e.g., high levels of triglycerides or high LDL levels) often do not feel ill, but over time, these substances accumulate and result in a number of deleterious health effects that appear to occur suddenly, such as a stroke or heart attack. This is why conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, etc., are often referred to as “silent killers,” as most people often appear asymptomatic until there is a major event.A number of issues can interact to produce a situation where an individual has high levels of LDL or triglycerides in their system, often referred to as having “high cholesterol” levels. These include:
According to the World Heart Federation and other sources, smoking tobacco products is the second leading cause of cardiovascular disease in the world; the leading cause of cardiovascular disease is high blood pressure, which can be affected by tobacco use. The use of tobacco products, particularly cigarettes, aids in the constriction of arteries, veins, and capillaries, which leads to the buildup of plaque associated with high cholesterol as well as scarring in the veins, arteries, and capillaries. This makes the presence of LDLs in the system even more damaging and results in the potential to develop high blood pressure, clots, and cardiac issues.
In addition, cigarette use leads to a number of respiratory issues, which further damage the system as a result of reduced oxygen intake and make one more susceptible to the effects of cholesterol. Stopping smoking can significantly reduce the risk. The data indicates that individuals who have not smoked for five years have reduced their risk of heart attack by nearly 50 percent of what it was when they were smoking. Individuals who remain tobacco-free for 15 years are at about the same risk as nonsmokers to have a heart attack.
While the association with moderate to heavy alcohol use on a daily basis with high blood pressure and increased bad cholesterol counts is consistent across studies, the association between light alcohol use and an increase in HDL levels, even when the alcohol use is extremely light, is not a consistent finding. Most likely, other factors like heredity and lifestyle contribute to this finding.
These findings have led to organizations like the American Heart Association recommending that people do not use wine as a preventative measure against the development of heart disease, but instead use approaches that are observed across nearly all studies to limit the risk of developing cardiovascular issues, such as diet, exercise, regular medical checkups, etc.
Research also suggests that even individuals who have stopped using stimulants remain at risk for cardiovascular issues, high blood pressure, high levels of cholesterol, etc.
However, individuals who abuse these substances are at an increased risk to develop cardiovascular issues that can be potentially serious. One side effect of abuse of opiate drugs is a lack of attention to personal hygiene and personal maintenance. This can result in very poor diet that can lead to increases in cholesterol levels and further the potential for cardiovascular issues.
Whether the ingestion of the psychoactive products in marijuana, such as THC, alters cholesterol levels to any significant effect remains debated.
A number of other potential drugs of abuse not listed above may be associated with increased risk to develop issues with high cholesterol and cardiovascular issues. In general, individuals with any type of substance use disorder typically suffer from various health conditions that include issues with cardiovascular functioning. Cardiovascular health is strongly related to lifestyle; thus, the abuse of any drug can impact cardiovascular functioning as a result of the effects of high cholesterol.
A person cannot directly alter their genetic makeup; however, they can reduce the risk factors that are associated with heredity by altering their lifestyle. This means engaging in a healthy lifestyle that is not associated with any type of drug misuse or abuse. Individuals using or abusing drugs or alcohol should become involved in substance use disorder treatment programs to address these issues.
Other common sense interventions to engage in include: