What is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a soft, fat-like substance found in the blood stream. Everyone has cholesterol, as it plays an important role in many of the body’s functions.
However, if your cholesterol level becomes too high, it puts you at higher risk of coronary heart disease, which may lead to heart attack, stroke and other serious disorders.
The term given for high cholesterol is HYPERCHOLESTEROLEMIA.
Where does Cholesterol come from?
You can get cholesterol in two ways. Your body makes some of it and the rest comes from cholesterol in the animal products you eat. For example: meats, poultry, fish, eggs, butter, cheese and whole milk. Foods such as fruits, vegetables and cereals do not contain cholesterol. Foods with saturated fat cause the body to make more cholesterol.
Like fats, cholesterol cannot dissolve in the blood. It needs carriers to transport it through the blood stream. These carriers are known as LIPOPROTEINS.
There are two types of lipoproteins:
LOW DENSITY LIPOPROTEIN (LDL)
This is the “bad” Cholesterol. Too much LDL cholesterol can clog your arteries and hence increase your risk of heart attack and stroke.
HIGH DENSITY LIPOPROTEIN (HDL)
This is known as the “good” cholesterol. The body makes HDL for your protection as it is believed to carry cholesterol away from your arteries.
When you take a cholesterol tests, the levels of LDL and HDL cholesterol in the blood are measured to evaluate the risk of developing heart attack.
Why is LDL Cholesterol Considered “Bad”?
When too much LDL Cholesterol circulates in the blood it can slowly build up in the inner walls of the arteries. The LDL cholesterol along with other substances can form a type of plaque, a thick deposit that can clog the arteries and hence produce a narrowing of those arteries. If a clot forms and blocks the narrowed artery it can cause heart attack or stroke.
Why is HDL Cholesterol considered “Good”?
HDL Cholesterol is known as “good” because it seems to protect against heart attack. Medical experts believe that HDL tends to carry cholesterol away from the arteries and back to the liver, where it is passed from the body. Some experts believe it can slow down the build up of excess cholesterol in the arteries.
What are the Healthy Levels of Cholesterol?
When an initial test is done, your TOTAL Cholesterol is measured. Your total cholesterol will fall into one of the following categories:
- Desirable: <5.20mmol/L
- Borderline High 5.20 mmol/L – 6.5 mmol/L
- High: > 6.50mmol/L
If your total cholesterol level is 5.20 mmol/L or less your risk of having a heart attack is reduced.
However, even with the lower risk it is important to eat sensibly (especially foods low in saturated fat and cholesterol) and to get plenty of exercise. A cholesterol check should be done every 3 to 5 years.
It is important to remember that cholesterol is only one factor that contributes to heart attacks. Blood pressure, age, gender, smoking, lifestyle and other illnesses are also important in evaluating your overall risk of a heart attack.
The action that should be taken in the event of a cholesterol level between 5.2mmol/L and 6.5mmol/L would depend on the person’s overall risk of heart disease. For example, if someone with diabetes or high blood pressure had a level of 6.0mmol/L, a doctor may recommend that they take cholesterol lowering medication. For someone with the same cholesterol level, but with no other health conditions or no family history of heart disease (and hence a lower risk of heart attack), some dietary changes may be all that is needed. Your doctor will help you to interpret your results.
If your total cholesterol is 6.5mmol/L or more then it is definitely high and hence your risk of heart attack and stroke is greater. In this case a cholesterol test should be done regularly, at least twice a year.
The key to remember is that the lower your cholesterol, the lower your risk. A diet that is low in saturated fat and cholesterol along with regular physical exercise are the key to successful management. If you cannot lower your cholesterol with these efforts, then there are medications that your GP can prescribe to help. These have been proven to be very successful in lowering cholesterol levels.
The determination of screening results provide initial or updated information. It is NOT diagnosis but serves as a basis for further tests and monitoring if required. Screening is not a substitute for medical surveillance. The data derived from the test is to be considered preliminary only.
McCabes Tips for Healthy Eating
Foods that are high in saturated fats:
- Red Meat
- Hard Cheeses
- Full Fat Milk
- Ice Cream
Foods that can help lower Cholesterol:
- Fresh Vegetables (Raw or Cooked)
- Potatoes eaten in their jackets
- Fresh Fruit
- Pure Fruit Juice
It is important to eat five portions of fruit and vegetables every day. An average portion of any of the following:
- Half a glass of fruit juice
- 2 tablespoons of cooked vegetables or fresh salad
- a small bowl of home made vegetable soup
- One medium sized piece of fruit
- 2 tablespoons of cooked or tinned fruit