Cholesterol: The Risks to Your Health

What is cholesterol?

Health advice has been centred around removing fat from your diet. Really? Recent reports suggest this might not be true and this approach is not working.

Cholesterol is a soft, fat-like substance known as a lipid, which is vital for normal functioning of the body. It is mainly made in the liver, but also exists in certain foods we eat. In moderate amounts, it is essential to good health. But the dangers of high cholesterol, including artery blockage and damage, are well-documented. There are different types of cholesterol

Proteins carry cholesterol into your blood. The two combine to form lipoproteins. This exists in 2 forms:

HDL (High Density Lipoprotein)/Good cholesterol – HDL picks up and carries excess cholesterol from artery walls and brings it back to the liver for processing and removal.

LDL (Low Density Lipoprotein)/Bad cholesterol – LDL is made by the liver to carry cholesterol to the body’s cells and tissues. If there are excessive amounts being carried, it may form deposits on the walls of arteries and other blood vessels.

Should I lower my cholesterol?

High cholesterol has been linked to:

  • Narrowing of the arteries
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke where cholesterol builds up inside artery walls and blood vessels this will restrict blood flow to your heart, brain and other vital body parts
  • Blood clotting is another potential risk
  • Alongside increasing cholesterol is the increased risk of coronary heart disease (CHD)

What causes high cholesterol?

Many factors could contribute to high cholesterol and the potential for heart problems or stroke.

  • An unhealthy diet will be linked to high cholesterol. Whilst certain foods have dietary cholesterol in them, a highly saturated fat diet may result in higher levels
  • Smoking will prevent HDL transporting LDL to the liver. This will result in narrowing of the arteries
  • Diabetes or high blood pressure can lead to higher cholesterol and related risks
  • Family history of stroke or heart disease
  • Hypercholesterolemia is a genetic condition whereby even those with a healthy diet have high cholesterol

Should I have my cholesterol checked?

It is advised that you check your cholesterol if you have any of the following concerns:

  • Have been diagnosed with CHD or having had a stroke
  • Are over 40
  • There is a family history of cardiovascular disease
  • If a close family member has a cholesterol related problem
  • When overweight
  • Any other condition that cause increased risk of high cholesterol, including high blood pressure or diabetes

How do I lower cholesterol?

Having a healthy diet is the first step. Reducing fatty foods containing high saturated fat, eating more fruit and vegetables along with wholegrain cereals can reduce cholesterol and keep it lower.

DO choose olive oil and canola oil for salad dressings, to sauté vegetables, and for cooking and baking. They are rich in monounsaturated fat, the heart healthy fat.

DON’T miss seeds and nuts, like almonds, walnuts, pecans, and peanuts. These are high in the healthy monounsaturated fats. A small handful 3 to 5 times a week can help prevent heart disease and increase your HDL levels.

DO find more soluble fibre. Soluble fibre may help lower blood cholesterol levels. It is found in oats, rice, bran, barley, dried peas and beans, and certain fruits like prunes and apples.

DON’T overlook complex carbohydrates. Complex carbs are rich in fibre, vitamins and minerals. Choose more whole grain breads and cereals, pasta, brown rice, and dried beans and peas. Enjoy fruits and vegetables more often.

DON’T over-indulge in salt. High blood pressure is associated with a high salt diet . Check labels carefully and watch the amount of salt you use in cooking and at the table.

The second change you can make is lifestyle changes. Quitting smoking and introducing regular exercise are key factors to helping reduce cholesterol levels.

Where these self-controlled measures are not having an impact, seek medical advice as statins may be prescribed to help lower cholesterol.

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