October marks the UK’s National Cholesterol Month – a month devoted to raising awareness of the health implications as a result of high cholesterol levels. To participate this month, we’re sharing this blog post to tell you everything you need to know about what cholesterol is, the possible health complications associated with the condition and some important guidance on how reduce it!
What is cholesterol?
The best place to start is by answering exactly what cholesterol is…
Made in two places, you can find it as:
- A fatty substance found in food such as eggs, cheese, shellfish, organ meats, sardines and full fat yoghurts
- A blood fat made in the liver that plays a vital role in our body’s functioning.
When it comes to cholesterol in the human body, it has three main jobs:
- It forms part of the outer layer or membrane of all your body’s cells
- It’s used to make vitamin D and steroid hormones which keep the body’s bones, teeth and muscles healthy
- It’s used to make bile, which helps to digest the fats we eat
Although some of our cholesterol comes from the food we eat, 80% of our cholesterol is made in our liver via a 37-step process.
Cholesterol and other blood fats are called triglycerides, that cannot circulate loosely in the blood and so, the liver packages them into parcels called lipoproteins. The lipoproteins are then released into the blood and carried around the blood whenever they are needed.
Although cholesterol is absolutely essential to our body’s functioning, too much cholesterol in the blood can lead to diseases of the heart and blood vessels – a key message that National Cholesterol Month looks to raise awareness of.
What raises our cholesterol?
Your blood fat can be raise for a number of reasons, including:
- A diet high in saturated fats including butter, cakes, biscuits, fatty cuts of meat, sausages, bacon cheese, cured meats etc
- Not being active enough and so, the fats that you do eat aren’t burned off
- Genetic conditions can often mean that an individual’s fats aren’t processed in the typical way
What happens if I didn’t lower my cholesterol?
Evidence and medical history shows that a high cholesterol level can increase the risk of:
- Narrowing of the arteries (atherosclerosis)
- Heart attack
- Transient ischaemic attack (TIA)
- Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD)
The science reveals that cholesterol can build up the artery wall, restricting 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.
When should my cholesterol levels be tested?
Your GP should recommend that your blood cholesterol levels should be tested, if you:
- Have been diagnosed with a heart-related health condition
- Have a family history of heart disease
- Have a close family member who has a cholesterol-related condition
- Have high blood pressure, diabetes or a health condition that can increase cholesterol levels
How do I look after my cholesterol?
National Cholesterol Month is the perfect opportunity to start making some simple changes to your lifestyle can help lower your cholesterol levels and most importantly, make your heart and overall lifestyle much healthier!
The first step in making an effective change to leading a healthier lifestyle, is to maintain a healthy, balanced diet. A balanced diet consists of lots of vegetables, plant-based foods such as vegetables, pulses, peas, beans, fruits, nuts, whole grains, soya foods etc! They’re full of nutrients, low in calories and will help lower cholesterol.
In addition, it’s important that you eat high-protein foods, cut down on sugar and make sure to eat three meals a day with healthy snack choices in between!
The next step is to implement exercise into your daily routine! Of course, living life in 2020 means that you’re busy, always on the move, 24/7 access to the internet means we never actually get the opportunity to switch off and find time for ourselves. But if Covid 19 has taught us anything, it’s taught us to take nothing for granted – especially our health and the health of our loved ones.
That being said, when it comes to finding time to exercise in order to reduce your high cholesterol – it really does come down to making time! All you need to do is simply implement it into your schedule. Although you might feel like you’re busy, why not go to bed half an hour earlier to get up half an hour earlier the next day to work out before you go to work? And anyway, National Cholesterol Month makes the ideal time to start!
Alternatively, why not mix your social life with exercise and go to a gym class with a friend? If you’re still struggling to find time, you need to find a form of exercise that you truly enjoy. So, why not consider a sport? The hour will fly by, you’ll get an extreme sweat on, reduce your stress levels, improve both your work-life balance and your mental health but, most importantly, give you a strong heart!
The next step to taking control of your cholesterol is… to stop smoking (if you do!)!
Smoking increases the risk of heart disease in several ways and one of these is by changing how the body handles cholestrol. The tobacco tar build up within the airways means that cells are unable to return cholesterol from vessel walls to the blood for. Then, the dysfunational immune cells controbute to the faster development of clogged arteries. The great news is that giving up smoking can reverse these harmful effects.
As it’s National Cholesterol Month, we urge you to use the month to take control of your health – make those important lifestyle changes and if needed, visit your GP for essential medical advice.