Cholesterol is very important for the proper functioning of cells. It is present in every human cell. Cholesterol, the soft-waxy like substance, is essential for the production of vitamin D, hormones, and bile salts. Cholesterol is carried through the body by lipoproteins, which are tiny packets that have a protein on the outside and fat (lipids) on the inside.
They are LDL (low-density lipoproteins) and HDL (high-density lipoproteins). When pregnant women have a cholesterol test, it is often reported as a combination of the two types. Ask for a breakdown of the LDL versus HDL.
The liver creates most of the cholesterol needed for the body, but it is also present in some of the food we consume. In our body, the liver is responsible for creating cholesterol for keeping the cells in a healthy condition and the hormones at the proper levels.
If cholesterol levels are below 200 mg/dL, it is considered as normal, whereas if it is between 200 and 239 mg/dL, it is said to be borderline high. Anything about 240 mg/dL is considered as high cholesterol and it can increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
There are two types of cholesterol: LDL and HDL. LDL is considered the “bad” cholesterol and can increase the chance of developing heart disease. “Good” cholesterol, HDL, acts like a scavenger and gets rid of the LDL that may clog arteries. Having a high HDL is good for women.
Here let us look at 15 facts about pregnancy and cholesterol, and see how cholesterol can affect pregnancy.
15 Increase in the Levels of Cholesterol
When a woman becomes pregnant, her cholesterol levels increase anywhere from 25 to 50 percent, with HDL levels increasing the most. Cholesterol helps in the development of steroid hormones like progesterone and estrogen. The fetus uses a lot of cholesterol to create the hormones that are essential for the development of the brain and the limbs of your baby.
Usually, the cholesterol level starts to increase during the second trimester and reaches the peak in the third trimester. In general, levels of LDL, the bad cholesterol should still remain under 100 mg/dL, and HDL, the good cholesterol should be over 60 mg/dL. The fetus uses the cholesterol to create the hormones estrogen and progesterone. Cholesterol levels will increase to protect the mother’s supply of cholesterol as it is also essential to the mother’s health. Cholesterol is needed to create certain hormones as well as vitamin D, and chemicals that help with digestion.
Hyperlipidemia is another term for high cholesterol and it usually is not treated during pregnancy. Under normal circumstances, high levels of cholesterol will go back to pre-pregnancy levels within four to five weeks after delivery. Therefore, doctors inform patients not to worry too much about it. Having increased levels of cholesterol is your body’s way of providing the fats necessary for your fetus to grow and thrive properly. Without the increase, the fetus would either suffer or the mother would suffer, and neither is a good outcome. The increase is nature’s way of making sure that there are enough lipoproteins to go around.
Doctors treat women with a high level of cholesterol during the pregnancy only if there is a chance of a cardiovascular attack. Doctors usually check the cholesterol levels as a part of a regular pregnancy check up and if there are any changes that need to be done with your diet and exercise, that will be discussed during the check up.
13 High Level of Cholesterol Before Pregnancy
Women who already have high LDL cholesterol levels before pregnancy, need to get the help of a doctor as there is some amount of risk involved when the cholesterol level starts to increase during the pregnancy. They will advise you on how to keep your cholesterol levels in check. Having high cholesterol levels prior to pregnancy can be problematic as it can lead to hypertension or high blood pressure, which can put the lives of both baby and mother at risk. However, low cholesterol can lead to low birth weight and premature labor.
During the pregnancy, you won’t be able to take drugs like “statins” to lower cholesterol as it is considered not good for the growth of the baby. With the help of your doctor, you will be asked to change your diet and participate in regular exercises that are considered safe for the baby to reduce cholesterol. Foods high in fiber, such as whole grains, legumes, and most fresh fruit and vegetables can help reduce bad cholesterol levels. Even a daily dose of a fiber supplement may be advised.
12 Hormone Synthesis
Even though excess cholesterol is not considered to be good for the body, it is very important to have a normal level of cholesterol. Not only in pregnant women but in all people, cholesterol should be present in the body for the creation of hormones like androgens, mineralocorticoids, estrogens, glucocorticoids, and progestogens. All steroid hormones are derived from cholesterol. It is also responsible for the synthesis of D vitamins, which are vital for proper bone growth and health.
Cytochrome P450 is primarily responsible for converting cholesterol to a steroid hormone called Pregnenolone. Pregnenolone is created in the brain and is considered to be the master hormone because it is responsible for the creation of other vital hormones that are necessary for the development of your baby and also for keeping your body functioning. Cholesterol is also a vital component of all of the cells in the body, as most cell walls are made mostly of cholesterol.
11 Pregnancy Induced Hypertension
Hypertension means high blood pressure. When you develop high blood pressure when you are pregnant, it is sometimes called Gestational Hypertension or simply Pregnancy Induced Hypertension or PIH. This can lead to preeclampsia, also known as toxemia and is a very serious condition for pregnant women. Researchers have pointed that any rise in blood pressure during the pregnancy can be risky. Babies born from mothers who have high blood pressure can be premature. Women who have high blood pressure prior to pregnancy are at higher risk of developing the problem.
Any pregnant women can have pregnancy induced hypertension. Chances are more if you have a family history of high blood pressure. Even though there are treatments for pregnancy-induced hypertension, it is still considered a serious issue. You have to be closely monitored by the doctor to ensure there is no premature birth or even death due to pregnancy induced hypertension.
10 Cholesterol and Vitamin D
Vitamin D is manufactured from the cholesterol present in your body but is often deficient in pregnant women. It can have no symptoms, but it could present as weakness, bone pain, achy muscles and bone softening, which can lead to easy fractures. Vitamin D and phosphorus play an important role in strengthening the bones and teeth, and in the growth of the brain. If there is not enough vitamin D in the mother, it can increase the risk of having an autistic child and can also lead to issues like fractures and rickets in the newborn. Studies have also shown that the lack of vitamin D can significantly increase pregnancy risks. During pregnancy, if the mother is short on vitamin D, doctors may prescribe vitamin D supplements.
The body’s skin uses sunlight to make vitamin D, however, most doctors recommend staying out in the sun without protection and would more likely suggest a supplement or foods high in vitamin D. Food high in vitamin D includes canned pink salmon, mackerel or sardines, vitamin D fortified orange juice, milk, cereal, or egg yolks.
9 High Cholesterol in Couples
A recent study has shown that couples where both have high cholesterol levels found it difficult to have a baby. The study followed 501 couples for a year. The levels of free cholesterol, total cholesterol, phospholipids, total lipids, and triglycerides were measured at the beginning of the study. At the end of the study, 347 couples had conceived. After evaluating the pregnancies, a strong link was found that indicated that the couples with the highest levels of free cholesterol took the longest to conceive.
Researchers speculated that high levels of cholesterol in both the partners can cause issues in the building blocks of hormones that are necessary for conceiving. Because cholesterol is directly related to the formation of progesterone and estrogen, they have a direct influence on controlling the quality of sperm and semen count in men. They also have an impact on ovulation and maintaining a healthy pregnancy. Further research is planned to explore the relationship and include other factors such as age, BMI, education, and race.
8 Consumption of Water
As there is a rise in the levels of cholesterol during pregnancy, consuming more water will help you in keeping a check on cholesterol levels. Drinking adequate amounts of water every day is important for good health, whether you are pregnant or not. Our bodies are made up of approximately 70 percent water and it only makes sense that when we don’t take in enough water, our bodies can’t perform properly. Although eight classes of water a day may sound like a lot, it really is what your body needs to keep working efficiently.
Adequate water helps thin the blood and makes it easier for your heart to pump through your body. Not having enough water can lead to high blood pressure because your heart has to work harder just to push the blood around. In addition, when you are dehydrated, your body actually increases the amount of cholesterol in your body in order to keep cell membranes moist and able to excrete waste.
Does sweating help in keeping a check on your cholesterol levels? Most doctors ask pregnant women to do regular exercises that include walking, swimming, and low-impact aerobics. All these exercises help in sweating, which helps with reducing the cholesterol levels. A healthy diet and regular exercise help in keeping cholesterol under control during the pregnancy. Regular exercise not only improves the cholesterol levels but also helps in improving your mood, improves sleep and reduces any pains that you may be having.
It has been known for quite a while that exercise helps reduce cholesterol, and researchers have been trying to figure out exactly why. Recent studies show that, although sweating in itself, doesn’t lower cholesterol, exercise does because it creates enzymes that move LDL (bad cholesterol) from the blood and deliver it to the liver where it is excreted. So the more exercise and sweating, the more LDL your body excretes.
6 Avoid Drinking Alcohol During Pregnancy
There is a lot of conflicting information out there about whether drinking alcohol during pregnancy is okay or not. Some doctors will adamantly tell you absolutely no alcohol, while other doctors will say that an occasional glass of wine or a beer is okay. However, it is known with certainty, that heavy alcohol consumption is dangerous to the fetus. To be frank, there are no studies showing that drinking during pregnancy is safe, however, there are no studies showing that minimal amounts of alcohol are dangerous to the fetus.
Drinking alcohol can result in increasing triglycerides and lowering the HDL cholesterol. It can also result in increasing bad cholesterol, LDL. Drinking can increase blood borne fat issues that can cause serious issues during pregnancy. It is very important for you to keep a check on these habits during pregnancy and avoid complications. If you already have issues with high cholesterol before pregnancy, then you should not drink alcohol during your pregnancy.
5 Effect of Garlic on Cholesterol
If you are looking for a natural way to reduce your cholesterol levels or to simply keep them in check during your pregnancy, throw a little bit more garlic in your recipes. Researchers have pointed out that garlic may have only a moderate effect on cholesterol and it is dependent on the dosage. In most studies that were performed, 0.5 to 1 gram of garlic was taken each day. This lowered total triglyceride and cholesterol levels by about 20 mg/dL. Garlic contains allicin, which helps to thin the blood. Raw garlic contains the most, but there are few of us who can eat raw garlic. However, cooked garlic also retains its cholesterol lowering effects.
Many doctors will ask patients to stop eating garlic one to two weeks before surgery if they are going for cesarean. Garlic can create an increase in clotting time that may create problems during surgery. Taking garlic after pregnancy is fine and your little one may enjoy the garlic-flavored milk!
4 Craving for Sweets and Cholesterol Connection
Craving for certain foods is common during pregnancy. Most women love to eat certain food items during this period. Indulging your cravings is usually okay as long as you don’t overdo and they don’t interfere with you eating a normally healthy diet. Although high cholesterol is most associated with eating fatty and fried food, eating too many sweets can lead to an increase in your cholesterol as well. Refined sugar also has the effect of lowering the HDL (good cholesterol) in your body.
When you take in too much sugar or too many calories in general, the liver converts those extra calories into fats and stores them, leading to increased levels of cholesterol in the bloodstream. It’s okay to give in to your cravings for sweets, just make sure that your other food intake is healthy. Remember, when you are pregnant, you really only need an additional 300 or so more calories to sustain yourself and your growing baby.
Stress plays an important role in increasing the levels of cholesterol. With the increase in levels of stress, your bad cholesterol, LDL, levels also increase. Studies have proven that stress has a direct impact on your dietary habits, weight issues and all this can lead to high levels of cholesterol. Although the exact mechanism is not understood, it is known that when a person is stressed the body releases the hormone cortisol, which is believed to increase cholesterol levels. Also, when a person is stressed, it can cause the “fight or flight” response, and adrenaline is released, which triggers the release of triglycerides, boosting bad, LDL cholesterol levels.
Women who are pregnant should try not to worry about anything. But there may be a lot of things going on in your mind during pregnancy as you will be going through a lot of changes in your body. Talking to your doctor, with your friends and family members, listening to music, and watching your favorite movies helps to reduce stress. All these stress reducers help in keeping your cholesterol level under control.
2 Breastfeeding and Cholesterol
The high levels of cholesterol reduce quickly after delivery. In fact, women who breastfeed will see their lipid or cholesterol, levels return to pre-pregnancy numbers three times faster than those who don’t breastfeed. Breastfed babies also will have high levels of cholesterol and it is thought to provide multiple benefits well beyond the time of breastfeeding. If you are concerned about your cholesterol levels, many doctors will recommend waiting until you end breastfeeding before being tested.
Breast milk that contains high levels of cholesterol is essential for the baby. It is a critical component of brain development and it is easily absorbed by the baby’s digestive system. It has also been found that breastfed babies appear to have healthier cholesterol levels through adulthood. In addition, it has been found that the longer a woman breastfeeds, it lowers her chances of getting diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure or cardiac problems after the onset of menopause.
1 Healthy Diet and Lifestyle for Healthy Cholesterol
Healthy diet and lifestyle play an important role in maintaining healthy cholesterol levels in a pregnant woman’s life. Doctors ask pregnant women to include a lot of fiber in their diet plan. There are several reasons for this. One is that it helps with digestion and helps avoid constipation, which sometimes plagues pregnant women. In addition, fiber helps to rid the body of cholesterol. During pregnancy, you must avoid foods with high cholesterol, limit fried foods, and foods with high saturated fats and sugars.
Instead, include fruits, nuts, and vegetables, along with seafood and lean meat to help in leading a healthy life. Do your best to eat a balanced diet, and you may find it helpful to eat five to six small meals during the day rather than three large ones. Keep in mind that your body needs only an additional 300 calories to support the nourishment of the baby. So, planning your diet for your next 8 months can help you keep the cholesterol and heart problems away and help in a safe pregnancy.