Cholesterol is a fatty substance which plays an essential role in how every cell in the body works. However, too much cholesterol in the blood can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.

There are two types of cholesterol - LDL (low-density lipoprotein) and HDL (high-density lipoprotein). LDL is harmful but HDL is good and helps protect the body.

Coronary heart disease is caused when the heart’s blood vessels become narrowed by a gradual build up of fatty material. LDL cholesterol is part of that process of fatty build up which plasters the arteries.

HDL cholesterol actually removes cholesterol from the circulation and seems to protect against heart disease. The goal should be to have high HDL and low LDL!

To check cholesterol levels, a doctor will take a blood sample. In the UK, the target is to have a total cholesterol level under 5 mmol/l. The higher the cholesterol level, the greater the chance of a heart attack.

High cholesterol is one of the biggest contributing factors to heart disease. As high cholesterol is like a plaque build-up in the arteries, it can block normal blood flow to the brain and cause a stroke. Having heart disease can also contribute to the dangers of having a stroke.

High cholesterol causes

High cholesterol causes include smoking, high blood pressure, lack of exercise, being overweight, having diabetes or a family history of premature heart disease. Having high cholesterol and one of the above, then the risk of a heart attack is much greater. Other high cholesterol causes include a genetically inherited tendency, alcohol abuse or kidney failure.

Avoiding high cholesterol

Smokers halve their risk of a heart attack within one year of quitting smoking. Exercising can also halve your risk. Those overweight can lower cholesterol levels and reduce the danger of a heart attack by shedding the pounds. Bringing down blood pressure will also help in lowering cholesterol levels. Not eat enough fruit, vegetables or oily fish, or too much salt and alcohol will lead to a higher chance of suffering from a heart attack or stroke.

What should be done

The most common cause of high cholesterol is too much saturated fat in the diet. The liver turns this in to cholesterol. Foods that help in lowering cholesterol levels include garlic, soya, oats, corn and selenium-enriched cereals.

It’s a good idea to have cholesterol levels checked regularly once you reach 50. This will enable those suffering to make lifestyle and dietary changes, or if medication is needed to bring the readings down to a safe level.

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