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Your Health: Cholesterol

Are you a chocoholic? Or maybe you like cheese and biscuits with pickle (yum), or perhaps neither of those things appeals and you would prefer a nice crisp salad with a healthy dressing? Believe it or not, no matter what sort of food you eat, you could have high cholesterol. In fact, more than half the adults in the UK have raised cholesterol.

Although unhealthy eating contributes to high cholesterol, some people are predisposed to it because of an inherited condition: Familial Hypercholesterolaemia (FH) or other lipid disorders. Having an underactive thyroid, long-term kidney problems and having too much alcohol also contribute to high cholesterol.

Like high blood pressure, high cholesterol doesn’t have symptoms and is called a silent killer because once symptoms are experienced it can be too late.

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a substance made in the liver. The liver also makes cholesterol from the fats we eat. Cholesterol in the right amounts helps the body to function; it plays an important role in how every cell works and makes vital chemicals. There is also some dietary cholesterol found in eggs, liver, offal and shellfish, but dietary cholesterol generally has little effect on our blood cholesterol. However, for those that have FH, they should be careful with foods like liver and offal since they are very rich in dietary cholesterol.

There are two main types of cholesterol, LDL and HDL. LDL cholesterol travels from the liver, through the bloodstream to the cells. HDL cholesterol returns excess LDL that isn’t needed, back to the liver to get broken down.

LDL is often called ‘bad cholesterol’ because too much in the bloodstream causes waxy plaques (atherosclerosis) to line the walls of the arteries, commonly known as hardening of the arteries or furring up of the arteries. These plaques cause cardiovascular disease (CVD) such as coronary heart disease (which includes heart attack and angina), kidney disease, peripheral arterial disease and vascular dementia. When these plaques or blood clots that form around the plaques break away, they can cause a heart attack or stroke or mini strokes.

Cardiovascular disease

Cardiovascular disease is the biggest killer in the UK. It affects both men and women. It may surprise you to know more women die from coronary heart disease than they do breast cancer – in fact it’s twice as deadly! Recent figures show that high cholesterol is highest in the East Midlands for women.

How can you lower your cholesterol? Physical activity can increase HDL which in turn removes bad cholesterol. Eating healthily, avoiding foods such as biscuits, cakes, fast food, pastries, butter, fats and some types of margarine will all help. Foods rich in fibre such as oats, fruit and vegetables also help lower cholesterol because fibre helps reduce absorption of cholesterol into the bloodstream.

It is important to check your personal risk of a cardiovascular event because doing something about it now will avoid problems later.

See links below for more articles or click on images on the right (or below for smaller screens) for Article Categories.

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