What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a waxy substance which is made in the body by the liver but is also found in some foods. It plays a vital role in how every cell works and is also needed to make Vitamin D, some hormones and bile for digestion. However, too much cholesterol in the blood can increase your risk of getting heart and circulatory diseases.
Cholesterol is carried around your body in your blood by proteins. When the cholesterol and proteins two combine, they’re called lipoproteins. The two main types of lipoprotein are:
High-density lipoprotein (HDL) – Known as the “good cholesterol”, it carries the cholesterol away from the cells and back to the liver.
Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) – Known as the “bad cholesterol”, it carries the cholesterol to the cells that need it. However, LDL tends to collect along the walls of the blood vessels, putting you at risk of a blockage.
The amount of cholesterol in the blood (both HDL and LDL) can be measured with a blood test. The recommended cholesterol levels in the blood vary between those with a higher or lower risk of developing arterial disease.
What causes high cholesterol?
Many different factors can increase your chances of developing heart problems or a stroke if you have a high cholesterol diet, you could experience symptoms such as:
- An unhealthy, high cholesterol diet – particularly eating high levels of saturated fats
- Smoking – a chemical found in cigarettes called acrolein stops HDL transporting cholesterol from fatty deposits to the liver, leading to narrowing of the arteries (atherosclerosis)
- Having high blood pressure (hypertension) or diabetes
- Having a family history of heart disease or strokes
Why should I go on a low cholesterol diet?
Having a high cholesterol level can increase the risk of you developing:
- Narrowing of the arteries (atherosclerosis)
- Heart attack
- Transient ischaemic attack (TIA) – often known as a “mini stroke”
- Peripheral arterial disease (PAD)
Cholesterol can build up in the artery wall which restricts the blood flow to your heart, brain, and the rest of your body. It also increases the risk of a blood clot developing somewhere in your body.
The risk of you developing coronary heart disease also rises as your blood’s cholesterol levels increase. This can cause pain in your chest or arm (angina) during stress or physical activity.
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