Cholesterol Levels is an organic molecule derived from fats and is present in every cell in our body. Physically, it looks like a waxy, soft, yellow-tinted substance. Cholesterol is required in the production of bile salts, several hormones including testosterone and oestrogen, as well as Vitamin D. It is transported through the blood with the help of small carriers known as lipoproteins. Around seventy-five per cent of cholesterol is produced in the body itself, with the remaining obtained from the food we eat. Pregnant women are generally required to be more careful about their diets; this includes managing cholesterol levels in the body. This article will help you understand the variations in cholesterol levels in the body during pregnancy, the importance of cholesterol in the development of the foetus, as well as how to control the risks associated with raised cholesterol in pregnancy.
What is The Normal Cholesterol Levels in Pregnancy?
The cholesterol ranges for adults are given below:
- The normal cholesterol range for an adult is below 2 mg/mL, but ideally between 1.2 and 1.9 mg/mL.
- In the first trimester of pregnancy, the cholesterol levels can range between 1.4 and 2.2 mg/mL.
- In the second trimester of pregnancy, the cholesterol levels can range between 1.8 and 3 mg/mL.
- In the third trimester of pregnancy, the cholesterol levels can range between 2.2 and 3.5 mg/mL.
Does Cholesterol Level Change when Pregnant?
As you can see, the later you are in your pregnancy, the higher your cholesterol levels. However, there is nothing to be concerned about, as this increase is quite natural, and is essential for the baby’s growth. Under standard conditions, your blood cholesterol will be highest just before you give birth, with a sharp decline immediately after delivery. This drop is more significant when you begin breastfeeding your newborn, as cholesterol is utilised in the production of breastmilk.
What Causes High Cholesterol during Pregnancy?
Elevated cholesterol in pregnancy plays several roles in foetal growth. For instance, cholesterol regulates sex hormone synthesis, which is required in taking your pregnancy to term. Further, cholesterol is required in the cellular, organ, limb and brain development of the foetus.
Signs and Symptoms of High Cholesterol
In almost all cases, you will observe no external signs and symptoms, and your pregnancy will proceed according to plan. Nevertheless, there is a small likelihood of your cholesterol levels exceeding the maximum permissible limits and remain there for extended periods of time. In these cases, there is a higher risk of complications like strokes and heart attacks. This is because excess cholesterol can build up in the artery walls, impairing blood circulation. This condition is known as atherosclerosis.
Can High Cholesterol be Dangerous in Pregnancy?
Risks associated with high cholesterol during pregnancy include the development of pregnancy-induced hypertension, which means the increased blood pressure can harm both your life and your baby. Hypertension can increase the likelihood of other complications like postpartum stroke, heart attacks, atherosclerosis, preeclampsia, seizures, premature delivery, and so on. Genetic disorders like Familial Hypercholesterolemia, caused by a defect on chromosome 19, prevents the body from removing low-density lipoprotein cholesterol from the blood. This makes cholesterol base levels much higher than normal, leading to dangerous complications during pregnancy. Further, several studies have shown that babies born to mothers who had high cholesterol levels during pregnancy are 5 times as likely to develop cholesterol-related conditions when they are adults.
Ways of Treating High Cholesterol during Pregnancy
It is strongly recommended to avoid any cholesterol-controlling medication during your pregnancy, as cholesterol is quite essential for the process. Doctors only prescribe these medications, such as Atorvastatin, if your cholesterol levels do not reduce after delivery. However, you might experience a few side-effects, such as headaches and rashes.
How Can You Prevent High Cholesterol when Pregnant?
Some simple ways of preventing high cholesterol during pregnancy include:
1. Eat Fibre
Fibre found in many fruits, whole grains, and vegetables are essential in a balanced diet. In addition, both soluble and insoluble fibre has proven to lower cholesterol levels in both pregnant and non-pregnant patients.
2. Control Fat Intake
Before reducing your fat intake, please consult your doctor. They will be able to recommend the minimum amount of fat consumption required per day for the neurological development of your foetus. Consume healthy sources of fat such as nuts, olive oil, fish, flaxseed oil, and so on.
3. Exercise Regularly
Newer studies are showing that active women, especially during the first trimester, have lower levels of cholesterol than those with a sedentary lifestyle. Exercising before pregnancy will help you continue doing the same during. Please ensure you only do mild to moderate exercises, to avoid stressing your heart. These include low-impact cardio exercises like treadmills and stationary bicycles. Even daily activities like walking, going up stairs, gardening, and so on can help reduce low-density lipoprotein while increasing high-density lipoprotein cholesterol.
Low Cholesterol Levels during Pregnancy
High cholesterol levels can be harmful during pregnancy, and the same applies to low cholesterol levels. Low cholesterol levels, that is less than 1 g/mL, can lead to pregnancy problems like preterm labour, premature birth and so on. Since cholesterol is essential in the formation of healthy placental tissue, insufficient amounts can affect foetal development, which can cause a smaller baby head circumference, low birth weight, among others.