High cholesterol: Nutritionist reveals top prevention tips
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According to estimates from Heart UK, as much as half of the UK’s adult population may have high cholesterol. Cholesterol is a naturally occuring substance in your body, but when you consume extra cholesterol through your diet, you can develop high cholesterol. What’s the difference between good and bad cholesterol?
Many Britons are aware of the dangers of high cholesterol, but the truth behind cholesterol is slightly more complicated.
There are two types of cholesterol, commonly referred to as “good” and “bad” cholesterol.
Your body needs the “good” cholesterol for many of its essential functions, but too much “bad” cholesterol can collect and clog up your arteries.
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a fatty substance made in your liver which is found in every cell in your body.
After being made in your liver, cholesterol is then packaged into neat clusters called lipoproteins which then travel around your bloodstream to wherever they are needed.
The main functions of cholesterol are:
- Forming part of the outer layer of all your body’s cells
- Helping make vitamin D
- Helping make bile
It’s particularly important for your skin, brain and nerves.
What is the difference between good and bad cholesterol?
LDL – which stands for low-density lipoprotein – is commonly referred to as bad cholesterol.
The reason LDL has earned such a bad reputation is these lipoproteins tend to contain high cholesterol.
So, if there is too much LDL in your arteries, it will clog them up, which is what we know as high cholesterol, and what cholesterol tests are looking for.
Most of the “bad” cholesterol in our bodies comes from diet, namely eating too much saturated fat.
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Your liver makes 80 percent of the cholesterol your body needs, so adding more cholesterol from your diet can result in an excessive cholesterol.
By contrast, HDL – standing for high-density lipoprotein – is known as good cholesterol.
HDL is considered good because it can help prevent disease. HDL also contains lots of protein and only a small amount of cholesterol.
The way HDL functions is different too: it carries HDL back to the liver, where the liver uses it to create bile, or breaks it down into waste.
When should I get a cholesterol check?
High cholesterol is very common in the UK, with Heart UK suggesting over half of British adults have raised levels of cholesterol.
Certain habits do put you at increased risk of high cholesterol, but anyone of any age can develop it.
Habits associated with increased risk of high cholesterol include:
- Drinking excessively
- Not exercising regularly
- Eating a high-fat diet
If left untreated, high cholesterol can lead to serious events including heart attacks and strokes.
There aren’t any symptoms or warning signs of high cholesterol, so the only way to know your cholesterol levels are by getting a cholesterol test.
You can get a cholesterol check at your GP or pharmacist.
If you’re over the age of 40, your GP will invite you to have your cholesterol levels checked every five years.
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