A recent Department of Health report
says that almost 70% of UK adults are thought to have
a higher than recommended cholesterol level and
that includes people who are young, slim and fit!
Combined with factors such as excess weight, smoking
and lack of exercise, high cholesterol substantially
increases the risk of serious illnesses, including
heart disease and stroke. However most of the people
with the problem are unaware of it.
This article is based on fact findings and should
not be treated as advice.
What exactly is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a lipid natural fat that is
carried in the bloodstream. It plays a part in the
production of hormones and the transportation of fats
around the body as well as creation of vitamin D which
is vital for strong bones and teeth. There are two
type of cholesterol in the blood:
HDL - High Density Lipoprotein and
LDL - Low Density Lipoprotein
HDL is known as the Good Cholesterol
as it has a protective effect on the body, carrying
harmful fatty deposits away from the arteries. LDL,
or bad cholesterol transports fatty
deposits to the tissues.
Your Ideal Level
A good cholesterol level is one that is below
5.2mmol/litre (millimols per litre of blood) and is
made up of 4mmol/litre of LDL cholesterol and more
than 1.15mmol/litre of HDL cholesterol.
However in Britain, the average adult level is 5.8mmol/litre,
which is higher than in other European countries and
28% of men and 32% of women in the UK have levels
of 6.5mmol/litre, which is classed as very high risk
by the Department of Health.
Getting a test
In Europe, cholesterol testing is routine and most
people know what their level is. However in the UK,
only those who are considered high-risk are offered
a cholesterol test, although you can ask you GP for
one if you are concerned. You can always invest in
a home testing kit though the results are not conclusive
and you only get an overall indicator not breakdown
between HDL or LDL, so one should only treat it as
a rough guide.
A more detailed test would involve taking a blood
sample after you have fasted for 12 hours and the
results will be separated from HDL and LDL cholesterol
levels. If the LDL level is too high, normally another
test would be undertaken following a programme of
diet and lifestyle changes for few months.
Other Risk Factors
While a raised cholesterol level is largely the result
of a combination of genetics and a diet high in saturated
fat, the following factors may also play a role:
- Hyperlipidaemias a group of metabolic disorders
in which the sufferer has higher than normal level
of fats in the blood regardless of diet or lifestyle.
The GP can check for these conditions and prescribe
for treatment accordingly.
- The menopause Up until now, women have
higher levels of HDL, the good cholesterol
than men due to the protective effect of oestrogen
but after the menopause this is lost and womens
rate of heart disease is almost equal to men.
- Stress While not a direct cause, but this
can tip the balance and studies show that stress
build up could change the cholesterol profile, and
lead to higher blood pressure.
Some tips to keep a healthy
After genetic factors, what you eat has the most
influence on your cholesterol level. Cut down on saturated
fats which are found mostly in meat and dairy items
as well as in cakes, pastries and crisps. Wherever
possible, replace hard fats with olive or sunflower
oil since these consist of good polyunsaturated
or monounsaturated fats which help to thin the blood
reducing the levels of LDL cholesterol.
Food choices such as at least five portions of fresh
fruit and vegetables a day act as protective foods.
The antioxidant vitamins they contain have a beneficial
effect on the blood combating the build up of free
Food containing complex carbohydrates whole
meal bread, pasta, rice, porridge all give a sustained
energy release throughout the day and help to combat
sharp falls in blood sugar levels, which then lead
to cravings for sweet, fatty foods.
What you drink matters also instant coffee
is better and avoid fizzy drinks as well as heavy
alcohol intake. Beware of hidden fat traps so check
food labels properly. Getting active is most important
and regular exercise improves the metabolism and beats
the stress factor also by taking simple lifestyle
changes in your habits.
Any lifestyle change you make has to be gradual so
that it can be sustained over a long period with remarkable
and noticeable benefits.