Cholesterol is one of those words you’ve heard about and probably seen on food packaging. But what exactly is it and why does it matter?
Cholesterol is essential for the body
Cholesterol is a type of fat that is part of all animal cells. It’s essential for many of the body’s metabolic processes, including the production of hormones, bile and vitamin D.
Cholesterol is carried around the body by two key transport systems in the blood:
- Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol – carries most of the cholesterol that is delivered to cells. It’s called the ‘bad’ cholesterol because when its level in the bloodstream is high, it can clog up your arteries.
- High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol – is called the ‘good’ cholesterol, because it helps remove excess cholesterol out of the cells, including cells in the arteries.
You don’t need to eat foods high in cholesterol. The body is very good at making its own cholesterol.
Cholesterol is important
Cholesterol is produced by the liver and also made by most cells in the body. It’s carried around in the blood by little ‘couriers’ called lipoproteins. We need a small amount of blood cholesterol because the body uses it to:
- Build the structure of cell membranes
- Make hormones like oestrogen, testosterone and adrenal hormones
- Help your metabolism work efficiently, e.g. cholesterol is essential for your body to produce vitamin D
- Produce bile acids, which help the body digest fat and absorb important nutrients.
Effects of high cholesterol
The liver is the main processing centre for cholesterol and dietary fat. When we eat animal fats, the liver transports the fat, together with cholesterol (in the lipoproteins), into our bloodstream.
Too much cholesterol circulating within LDL in our bloodstream leads to fatty deposits developing in the arteries. This causes the vessels to narrow and they can eventually become blocked. This can lead to heart disease and stroke.
Avoid saturated fats
The best way to have healthy levels of cholesterol in your diet is to limit foods high in saturated fats. Try to avoid:
- Fatty meats
- Processed meats like salami and sausages
- Snack foods like chips
- Most takeaway foods, especially deep-fried foods
- Cakes, biscuits and pastries.
Lifestyle tips to cut cholesterol
Changing some of your lifestyle habits may also help to reduce your cholesterol levels. Suggestions include:
- Reduce your alcohol intake to no more than one or two drinks a day, or stop drinking altogether
- Stop smoking
- Exercise regularly, e.g. at least 30 minutes of brisk walking daily
- Try to lose any excess body fat
- Control your blood sugar levels if you have diabetes.
Medication may be needed
For some people, diet and lifestyle changes are not enough. Your doctor may recommend medications to force your blood LDL levels down.
Your doctor may also refer you to a specialist who treats cardiovascular disease.
Any questions about cholesterol?
Chat to your doctor if you have any questions about cholesterol. It’s better to start managing high cholesterol earlier rather than later.
Source: BetterHealth Channel
Note: This information is of a general nature only and should not be substituted for medical advice. It does not replace consultations with qualified healthcare professionals to meet your individual medical needs.