Healthspan October 05, 2017

High cholesterol is a risk factor for coronary heart disease which is why it’s so important to know the difference between normal cholesterol levels, high cholesterol and bad cholesterol levels.  And having your cholesterol tested – which is worthwhile as you may not notice if you have high cholesterol – is a simple blood test that can be carried out by your GP or practise nurse. 

Not all cholesterol is bad cholesterol

Before we start talking about cholesterol levels it’s important to be aware of the difference between good cholesterol and bad cholesterol. Your total cholesterol level contains HDL cholesterol, which is good cholesterol, and other forms such as LDL and IDL cholesterol which are collectively known as ‘bad’ cholesterol. Your risk of coronary heart disease is particularly high if you have a low level of HDL-cholesterol and a high level of non-HDL-cholesterol.

What exactly do LDL and HDL do?

LDL is short for low density lipo-protein, while HDL is short for high density lipo-protein. Other forms of lipoprotein also exist, such as intermediate density lipoportein (IDL) and very low density lipoprotein (VLDL). These lipoproteins all bind to cholesterol to help transport it into the circulation.

HDL is a bit of a lifesaver when it comes to your cholesterol levels. It helps to remove excess cholesterol from the blood stream and transfer it down to the liver so it can be broken down.

All other forms of lipoprotein, including LDL, bind to cholesterol to transport it to the sittues and can stick to artery walls. Having too much non-HDL cholesterol increases the risk of a plaque build-up that can narrow your arteries and increase your chance of coronary heart disease or stroke.

What should your cholesterol level be?

Medical experts recommend that healthy adults should have a total cholesterol level below 5 mmol/L, and a non-HDL cholesterol level of less than 4 mmol/l.

The most important measure is your ratio of total cholesterol to HDL- cholesterol, as this takes your non-HDL cholesterol into account. Your ratio of total cholesterol divided by HDL-cholesterol should ideally be less than 6. A ratio above 6 is considered high risk, so the lower the ratio the better.

How can I stop cholesterol building up in my arteries and lower my number?

Unhealthy lifestyle choices often contribute to a higher cholesterol but fortunately, they’re easy to predict as well as easy to change. When it comes to heart health a small change really can make a huge difference.

1. Be aware of your diet

Eating too much saturated fat can increase your cholesterol levels, so it’s important to make sure you’re not eating more than a healthy amount of foods like butter, cheese, cream and lard. Eating plenty of fruit and vegetables will help to lower your cholesterol levels if they’re too high and it’s also worth considering a plant sterols supplement that will help to block the absorption of cholesterol.

2. Get plenty of exercise

Aside from being fantastic for all aspects of your health and wellbeing, regular doses of exercise can help to increase your levels of HDL – the good cholesterol that helps to prevent a build of too much cholesterol in the arteries.

3. Stop smoking and drink alcohol in moderation

Smoking is a risk factor in itself for coronary heart disease – the disease you’re looking to avoid by lowering you cholesterol level and, while up to 14 units of alcohol per week are fine for both men and women, excessive alcohol intake will have a negative impact on your cholesterol.

Unfortunately, cholesterol levels do increase with age and it is possible to inherit high cholesterol levels. If you are concerned about your cholesterol level then it’s important to seek advice from your local GP.

Nothing beats a healthy, balanced diet to provide all the nutrients we need. But when this isn’t possible supplements can help. This article isn’t intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying supplements or herbal medicines.

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