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October is Cholesterol Awareness month, a month dedicated to raising awareness of the health risks related to high cholesterol such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and strokes.
According to Heart UK, it is estimated that over 50% of adults in the UK have high cholesterol, but with few signs or symptoms, many are unaware they are at risk.
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a fatty substance found in every cell in our bodies which is produced naturally by the liver and can also be obtained from our diet. Found in all animal food products it is vital in the maintenance of our cell membranes, production of vitamin D and bile acid. Cholesterol is also important in the production of many key hormones such as testosterone and oestrogen.
As cholesterol travels around our bodies in the blood it is bound to small proteins called lipoproteins. High density lipoproteins (HDL), remove cholesterol from our tissues and take it back to the liver. The liver is then able to recycle the cholesterol. Because of their role in the body, HDL are often referred to as the “good cholesterol” and offer a protective role.
In contrast, low density lipoproteins (LDL) are commonly known as ‘bad cholesterol’ because they carry cholesterol from the liver to our tissues, depositing it on our artery walls. This eventually leads to fatty plaques developing which block the blood vessels and increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. Although high levels of LDL in our bodies have a negative effect, these proteins are still important for our health as at low levels they are useful in the production of Vitamin D and steroid hormones.
What affects cholesterol levels in the body?
Smoking, high alcohol intake and family history of heart disease can all lead to high cholesterol. Our cholesterol can be lowered by making minor changes to our diet and lifestyle choices. Foods containing high levels of saturated fats including red meat, cheeses, fats and oils contain high amounts of cholesterol. Unlike animal products, plants do not contain cholesterol so eating more fresh fruit and vegetables as well as seeds, nuts and whole grains can help to lower our cholesterol levels. Reducing our alcohol intake and exercising more also helps to lower the risk of cholesterol-related diseases.
As well as diet and lifestyle, our cholesterol levels can also be affected by having certain conditions such as familial hypercholesterolemia and thyroid disease. Hormones produced by our thyroid gland play a major role in the regulation of metabolism and aid the breakdown of fats including cholesterol. If the thyroid gland is underactive or overactive, the body’s ability to process cholesterol can be affected. Hypothyroidism in particular can lead to hypercholesterolemia, which is the increase of LDL cholesterol in the body. Our range of thyroid tests offer the ideal way to check your thyroid function.
How can I check my cholesterol levels?
Because there are no obvious signs of high cholesterol in our bodies, it is really important we keep an eye on our levels. Our Medichecks cholesterol check is the perfect way to measure levels of triglycerides, LDL and HDL cholesterol as well as determining your risk of heart disease based on the ratio of HDL to total cholesterol. Our cholesterol check also tests for Non-HDL cholesterol which is calculated by subtracting your HDL cholesterol result from your total cholesterol, therefore including all the non-protective and potentially harmful cholesterol in your blood. It is considered to be an effective marker for cardiovascular risk. This test can be completed using our finger prick test kit from the comfort of your own home, making it easier than ever to check your cholesterol levels and take control of your health.