I have been asked by many members over the year to explain what cholesterol “actually is”. Many people in the UK suffer from high cholesterol, with most not realising they do as the cholesterol itself does not cause symptoms, so here we go…
Cholesterol is a (lipid) fat that is made in the liver from fatty foods that we eat. It circulates in the blood stream as particles called lipoproteins. There are two types of lipoproteins to be aware of – one is considered ‘good’, one ‘bad’. There are more details of these below for those that want to be a bit more detailed.
Only by analysing a blood test, via your doctor, is it possible to tell if you are suffering from high cholesterol. This test’s aim is to assess the risk of developing heart disease or a stroke. The link between high cholesterol and these conditions is so strong that we know by lowering your cholesterol, you lower the risk.
Why the link? When there is too much cholesterol (the fat-like substance) in your blood, it builds up in the walls of your arteries. Over time, this build-up causes “hardening of the arteries” so that arteries become narrowed and blood flow to the heart is slowed down or blocked. The blood carries oxygen to the heart, and if enough blood and oxygen cannot reach your heart, you may suffer chest pain. If the blood supply to a portion of the heart is completely cut off by a blockage, the result is scarily a heart attack.
Factors that can raise cholesterol levels in your body are diet, an underactive thyroid gland, obesity, drinking a lot of alcohol and some rare kidney and liver disorders. In some people high cholesterol levels run in families and are a genetic condition.
Lifestyle changes to reduce cholesterol levels include to stop or reduce smoking, eating a healthy & low fat diet, restrict salt intake (to less than 6g per day), cut back on alcohol and take regular physical activity for 30 minutes 3 times per week. So the usual answers to a health change – which is good news for simplicity’s sake!
A healthy diet in relation to cholesterol would be foods usually based in a traditional Mediterranean diet. Such as using olive oil rather than butter and whole grains – so brown breads, brown rice, wholemeal pasta etc, not white.
It is also recommended that if you are over the age of 40 to request a cholesterol test at the doctors. So, this may be worth putting in the diary for a few months’ time.
Lynda & the Shapers Team
Low density lipoproteins (known as LDL cholesterol) are often referred to as ‘bad’ cholesterol. The majority of cholesterol in the blood is LDL cholesterol but varies from person to person. LDL cholesterol is involved with the formation of atheroma plaques which attach to the inner walls of arteries causing narrowing and stiffness. Over time this can restrict blood flow through the arteries causing hypertension and angina. In some cases, these plaques can block an artery causing thrombosis, stroke and heart attack.
High density lipoproteins (known as HDL cholesterol) are often referred to as ‘good’ cholesterol as HDL cholesterol has been shown to actually ‘fight’ LDL cholesterol and reduce its effect.