Building up cholesterol and plaque inside the arteries of the heart over time is no different from building a retirement fund. Whatever one deposits starting at a young age will be eventually “harvested” come old age. When one makes bad lifestyle choices early on, the negative consequences will manifest in the senior years.
Renowned cardiologist and Department of Health consultant Dr. Willie T. Ong attributes an early onset of high cholesterol levels in young men to the culture of “instant gratification,” to which many have resorted or grown accustomed. In particular, Dr. Ong is referring to easy access to food that may not necessarily be healthy. “Perhaps with our intake of fast food nowadays, this [buildup of cholesterol] can start much earlier,” he says.
Among the perils of having fast food at one’s disposal is the unregulated consumption of food items that are high in fat, salt, and sugar, which in turn increase a young man’s risk of acquiring diseases of the heart and blood vessels. Other factors that may increase the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases, including raised LDL cholesterol levels, are alcohol and tobacco consumption, stress, and the lifestyle diseases diabetes and hypertension. “These can also cause injury to the blood vessels, causing plaque or blockage to form. So it’s not only fat,” Dr. Ong says.
Sadly, the belief that “girls have it easy” applies to cholesterol levels. Studies have shown that, although the LDL cholesterol level of women, especially those who make bad lifestyle choices or develop bad habits, increases in the same young age range as men, women do not suffer as much as their male counterparts. “Women will also have this buildup but at a slower rate because of the protective effects of estrogen,” Dr. Ong says.