Understanding Your Cholesterol Levels
Cholesterol is a fatty substance that is produced by the body and obtained from some food, and is essential for some hormone production. Too much cholesterol, however, can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Most cholesterol is produced by the liver, but the remainder is obtained from foods, especially those high in saturated fat, most notably fatty meat, full cream dairy products, and saturated oils such as coconut or palm oil.
Good fats that do not increase cholesterol levels are the unsaturated fats such as oily fish (mackerel and salmon), nuts, seeds, avocados, and vegetable oils and spreads.
Cholesterol is divided into HDL or good cholesterol, which helps to transport cholesterol and decreases the build-up of plaque in the arteries, and LDL or bad cholesterol which is the main source of plaque build-up and eventual blockage of arteries.
High cholesterol is one of the main contributing factors to heart disease, with the other most important ones being high blood pressure, being overweight, smoking, and family history.
If cholesterol levels are found to be elevated, it is first recommended to make lifestyle changes in the way of eating less saturated fat and more of the good oils, and also exercising more and losing weight. Increased exercise increases the level of HDL or good cholesterol.
If despite these lifestyle changes cholesterol levels remain elevated, there are medications available to decrease cholesterol levels and thereby decrease the risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
The most effective of these are the statins, which decrease cholesterol production by the liver, effectively decrease blood cholesterol levels, and thereby decrease the risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
Having high levels of cholesterol does not cause any symptoms, and it is therefore recommended that all patients, especially those over the age of 40, should have regular checks of their cholesterol levels and intervention if necessary to minimise the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, thereby decreasing the risk of heart attack and stroke.
Cholesterol levels can be measured in consultation with any of the GMC doctors, or as part of a full medical to assess overall health and minimise the risk of developing disease!