What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a fatty substance known as a lipid, which is mainly made by the liver and can also be found in some foods. It is vital for the human body to function properly but if the levels of cholesterol are too high in the blood, it can result in heart disease and heart stroke among other problems. Cholesterol can increase with age and is only detected through a blood test. There is also something else that may need to be monitored if someone has high cholesterol, and that is triglycerides. Having a high level of triglycerides, a type of fat (lipid) in the blood, can also increase the risk of heart disease.
Why is it important to lower cholesterol?
Evidence shows that high cholesterol levels can increase the risk of having a heart attack, a stroke, a mini-stroke (known as transient ischaemic attack) or a peripheral arterial disease (PAD).
Cholesterol can build up in the artery wall, which restricts the blood flow to the heart, brain and the rest of the body. It can also increase the risk of a blood clot in other parts of the body. The risk of developing coronary heart disease is also higher when the blood’s cholesterol level increases.
What causes high cholesterol?
There are many factors that increase the chances of having high cholesterol, which include:
- An unhealthy diet – especially eating high levels of saturated fat. This can also lead to certain lipid disorders.
- Hypertension (high blood pressure).
- A family history of stroke or heart disease.
Even people who eat healthily can inherit a condition called familial hypercholesterolemia, which can cause high cholesterol.
What should my cholesterol levels be?
The levels of blood cholesterol is measured in millimoles per litre of blood (mmol/L.) Total cholesterol levels should be 5mmol/L or less for healthy adults or 4mmol/L or less for those who are at high risk. Low-density lipoprotein (LPL) levels should at 3mmol/L or less for healthy adults or 2mmol/L or less for those at high risk.
How to lower cholesterol levels?
To reduce the level of cholesterol, it is recommended to maintain a healthy and balanced diet, which is low in fatty foods. Regular exercise and quitting smoking are also recommended to lower the levels of cholesterol. If following these steps does not reduce the cholesterol levels, a doctor may prescribe medication such as Statins to help. Statins block the chemicals in the liver that help to make cholesterol, which leads to a reduction the blood cholesterol level. They are only prescribed to people who are at a high risk of heart disease and will need to be taken for life.
A balanced diet, low in saturated fats can reduce LDL (bad cholesterol). The following foods should be avoided or the intake reduced:
- Fatty meats and meat products
- Butter and lard
- Cream, sour cream and ice cream
- Cake and biscuits
- Coconut oil