What is Cholesterol?

Without cholesterol, your body wouldn’t work so it’s vital to ensure the body’s normal function. However too much cholesterol in the blood increases the risk of coronary heart disease and disease of the arteries.

One of the biggest misconceptions people have is that food’s packed with cholesterol. In fact, very little cholesterol is found in foods. What’s important is the type of fat in the food you choose, especially saturated fat. Once inside the body, the liver turns this fat into cholesterol.

Knowing your cholesterol level isn’t, on its own, enough to tell you your personal risk of heart disease. You also need to know about lipoproteins. These are special molecules that carry or transport cholesterol around the body.

There are three main types:

  • Low-density lipoprotein (LDL), often known as bad cholesterol – this carries cholesterol from the liver to the cells and, if supply exceeds demand, can cause harmful build-up of cholesterol
  • High-density lipoprotein (HDL), or good cholesterol – this takes cholesterol away from the cells and back to the liver, where it’s either broken down or excreted
  • Triglycerides, is the fat that comes directly from your diet

The greatest danger is when someone has high levels of LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, and low levels of HDL cholesterol.

The higher the risk of heart disease (for example, a male smoker with high blood pressure and diabetes), the greater the need to get cholesterol levels down. One in 500 people have high cholesterol because of an inherited problem, called familial hyperlipidaemia.

The first steps in treating high cholesterol levels are: Regular physical activity and Healthy eating

The latter means cutting down on fats, especially a type called Trans fats, and replacing saturated (bad) fats with unsaturated alternatives. There are also some foods that may help to lower cholesterol levels, particularly garlic, soya, oats, corn and selenium-enriched cereals.

Regular physical activity doesn’t mean going to the gym every day or training to run a marathon. Initially, it is simply about becoming more active than you currently are, going for walks and making small amendments to your lifestyle. The guidelines for activity are 30 minutes 5 times per week to maintain a healthy lifestyle in combination with your diet.

For advice on cholesterol, please contact the British Heart Foundation www.bhf.org.uk

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