“CHOLESTEROL” …. what does it mean?
You should have your cholesterol checked, but why?
Cholesterol is a form of lipid (fat) that is essential for body function. It is very important in the wall of the body’s cells and is used as a store of energy in the form of fatty tissue.
The main lipids in our diet are triglycerides, these make up 96% of fat intake with cholesterol only making up 0.5% and phospholipids ( another type of fat) making up the rest.
Fat can be divided into saturated and unsaturated fat. As a general rule saturated fat is solid at room temperature, whilst unsaturated fat is liquid. Hence butter, a saturated fat is solid and olive oil, an unsaturated fat is liquid.
Saturated fats tend to increase cholesterol by increasing its production and decreasing its breakdown.
Red meat tends to be high in saturated fats and large amounts will increase cholesterol.
Vegetarian diets are very low in saturated fats and are associated with lower cholesterol levels.
Lean meats such as chicken, lean pork and lamb are lower in saturated fats and should be incorporated in a balanced healthy diet.
Fish is very low in saturated fat and very high in fats called omega-3 fatty acids and has been shown to have enormous health benefits.
Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids include fish (particularly salmon and sardines), some vegetable oils such as olive oil, avocados and nuts such as Brazil nuts.
High cholesterol levels have been associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease such as heart attacks , angina, strokes and blocked circulation.
Cholesterol levels reported by the pathology laboratory will usually include the total cholesterol, triglycerides, HDL (good) cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol.
The levels of all these are important in assessing the risk to health.
A higher total cholesterol (higher than 5.5) may not be a problem if the HDL component is quite high and the triglycerides low. Equally, a low cholesterol may not be ideal if the HDL component is very low ( less than 1.0).
Diets high in saturated fats will favour a high total and LDL cholesterol and hence are associated with an increased risk to health.
Likewise diets low in saturated fats and high in the omega-3 fats favour a low total cholesterol and high HDL levels.
So it is very important to look at the total picture.
LDL cholesterol is part of the cholesterol plaques found in blood vessels, which are present in virtually everyone to some degree. These plaques (like rust in a pipe) can break at times and create a blood clot in an instant, which may block the blood vessel causing problems like heart attacks and strokes.
LDL cholesterol can be reduced by eating foods low in saturated fats and high in omega-3 fatty acids and exercising regularly.
Lack of exercise in fact is now recognized as the second most important risk factor for heart disease, the most significant risk factor is smoking.
Other risk factors include high blood pressure, diabetes and a family history of heart disease.
All adults should have their cholesterol checked especially if there is a family history of heart disease.
Below are some websites, which may be of interest