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What causes high cholesterol?

What causes high cholesterol?

Over half of all adults in England have high cholesterol levels, but what does having high cholesterol really mean and what are the consequences?

Cholesterol is made naturally by our liver but it can also be found in our diet as well. According to the NHS, cholesterol is a fatty substance also known as lipid and is vital for our bodies to be able to function normally. Cholesterol helps us with many things, including the production of sex hormones, bile production in the liver and it is a building block for human tissues.

There are two different parts to cholesterol:

Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, also referred to as ‘bad cholesterol’, carries cholesterol from the liver back to cells in the bloodstream, however if there is too much then this can build up in the artery walls, which can lead to health problems.

Meanwhile, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol also known as ‘good cholesterol’ carries the cholesterol back to the liver, where it is broken down.

According to the NHS as a general guide, total cholesterol levels should be:

  • 5mmol/L or less for healthy adults
  • 4mmol/L or less for those at high risk

Health problems

Having high cholesterol levels over a long period of time can cause health problems. There are many different factors which can contribute to having high cholesterol including smoking, a family history of strokes or heart diseases, an unhealthy diet, being overweight and your age, ethnicity and gender.

If you do have high cholesterol levels then this can increase your risk of:

  • Heart attacks
  • Strokes
  • Narrowing of the arteries (atherosclerosis)
  • Transient ischaemic attack (TIA)
  • Peripheral arterial disease (PAD)
  • Blood clots
  • Coronary heart disease

Reduce your risk of high cholesterol

Maintaining a healthy balanced diet is the first step to lowering your cholesterol levels. Also try to avoid fatty foods as these are high in saturated fats. Avoid or cut down on fatty meat products, butter, cream, cheese, cakes, biscuits, milk chocolate and coconut oil. Foods that are high in unsaturated fats can reduce your risk of high cholesterol, these include oily fish, nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables.

Exercising has many health benefits and can increase the good cholesterol levels (HDL) in your blood. Exercising can also help with weight loss, lowering your risk of diabetes, decreasing your risk of heart disease and can reduce your stress levels and blood pressure.

Did you know that around 20% of heart disease deaths are directly linked to smoking? By quitting smoking you can reduce your risk of heart disease by about 50% in one year! Smoking reduces your good cholesterol levels and makes your cholesterol more sticky, meaning it is more likely to stick to the inside of your artery walls. If you’re looking to stop smoking then here are 18 ways to help you quit.

A cholesterol test involves taking blood which determines the amount of good and bad cholesterol in your blood. This can be done by either your GP or a practise nurse. For more information about cholesterol visit the HEART UK website.

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