Cholesterol is a fatty substance known as a lipid and is vital for the normal functioning of the body. It’s mainly made by the liver, but can also be found in some foods.
However, there are two types of cholesterol – HDL cholesterol which is referred to as good cholesterol where high levels are better, and LDL cholesterol, which can lead to a disease of the arteries.
High levels of LDL cholesterol can increase the risk not only of heart disease but heart attack, stroke, stroke, TIAs or ‘mini strokes’ and peripheral arterial disease.
Both the brain and heart require cholesterol to function normally.
The amount of cholesterol – both HDL and LDL cholesterol – can be measured with a blood test, which is usually recommend by a GP.
Six in every ten people in the UK are currently living with raised or abnormal cholesterol levels, putting them at an increased risk of a range of cardiovascular diseases.
The condition can be treated with statins – drugs which lower cholesterol and are prescribed to millions of patients in the UK.
Lifestyle can increase your risk of developing high blood cholesterol.
There are five main factors which put people at risk of developing the condition.
Aim to limit alcohol intake to, at most, 21 units spread over a week for men
An unhealthy diet
Food high in saturated fat – including junk food, processed food and takeaways increase cholesterol. It also includes people who ear larger portions than they need, comfort eat or drink too much alcohol.
Walnuts and oatmeal have been hailed as just two of the foods which can help reduce high levels of cholesterol.
Experts also advice cooking food from scratch to reduce the number of additives in food.
Lack of exercise
Lack of exercise can increase levels of bad cholesterol – LDL cholesterol.
Experts said losing weight and building muscle is the best way to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, and state people should aim to do at least thirty minutes exercise a day.
It can also reduce the risk of developing diabetes – which can cause high cholesterol – or high blood pressure.
Drinking too much alcohol can increase the risk of high cholesterol. It can also cause abnormal heart rhythms, high blood pressure, damage to your heart muscle and other diseases such as stroke, liver problems and even cancer, argues the British Heart Foundation.
Dr Sarah Brewer, author of Cut Your Cholesterol: A Three Month Programme To Reducing Cholesterol said: “Aim to limit alcohol intake to, at most, 21 units spread over a week for men and 14 units spread over a week for women.”
Alcohol is also high in calories so can lead to weight gain.
People who are overweight are more likely to have high levels of LDL and triglycerides, and a lower levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL). People who have a BMI of around 30 are classed as obese.
NHS Choices said a chemical in cigarettes called acrolein stops good cholesterol – HDL – transporting cholesterol from fatty deposits to the liver.
The can lead to a condition called atherosclerosis, which is a narrowing of the arteries.
A treatment, called Alirocumab – produced by company Sanofi – is approved in the UK for use in patients who are unable to reach their ‘bad’ cholesterol treatment goals, despite modifying their diet and taking a maximum tolerated dose of a statin and other lipid-lowering therapies.
The guidance has been hailed as a ‘major step forward’ for the thousands of people in the UK who are sill unable to control their cholesterol levels, despite taking the maximum tolerated dose of statins.