Our liver makes cholesterol, necessary for producing the hormones and compounds our body needs. As cholesterol in food adds to it, excess can cause arteries to narrow and block blood flow, leading to coronary and other diseases. Only a blood test can tell us our cholesterol levels.
Raised cholesterol is estimated to cause 2.6 million deaths (4.5% of total) and is implicated in heart diseases and stroke. When cholesterol builds up in our arteries, it is sometimes referred to as plaque or cholesterol plaque.
Cholesterol is made up of two kinds: high-density lipoproteins (HDL) and low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and the ratio of good to bad is implicated in heart disease, diabetes and stroke.
A 2008 study showed that in high-income countries, more than 50% of adults had raised total cholesterol, more than double the level of the low-income countries.
How it is believed to work is that low-density lipoproteins (LDL) become the vehicle via which cholesterol gets around the body. Too much can form into plaques that narrow arteries, block blood flow or even break apart and lead to a heart attack or stroke. The good HDL gathers up cholesterol from around the body and takes it back to the liver for elimination.
All guidelines point to the need for maintaining a healthy weight, integrating exercise into our lifestyle, and quitting smoking as some of the key steps to limiting the impact of out-of-balance cholesterol. What’s a healthy cholesterol level and how to get more HDLs is the subject of many articles and guides such as this one.
Our nutritional habits are directly linked to risk of heart disease but not only: although medication such as statins can help control excess cholesterol or its potentially damaging impacts, lifestyle and genetics also play a role so staying informed about risk factors is a major first step.
Cholesterol isn’t the only fatty substance to watch out for: triglycerides are another type that can be high due to over-consumption of fat and sugar and also clog arteries over time. HDLs and LDLs are therefore an important part of the story about fatty substances in the body but not the only part. Blood tests to tell our ratio of HDL to LDL also gives important information about our triglyceride levels.
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