What is Cholestrol?
Cholesterol is a lipid (fat chemical) that is made in the cells in your body. Many different cells make cholesterol but cells in the liver make around a quarter of the total. Although many foods contain cholesterol, it is poorly absorbed by the gut into the body. Therefore, cholesterol that you eat in food has little effect on your body and blood cholesterol level. A certain amount of cholesterol is present in the bloodstream. You need some cholesterol to keep healthy. Cholesterol is carried in the blood as part of particles called lipoproteins.
There are different types of lipoproteins, but the most relevant to cholesterol are:
Low-density lipoproteins carrying cholesterol - LDL cholesterol. This is often referred to as bad cholesterol. This is the one mainly involved in forming atheroma. Atheroma is the main underlying cause of various cardiovascular diseases (see below). The majority of cholesterol in the blood is LDL cholesterol, but how much varies from person to person.
High-density lipoproteins carrying cholesterol - HDL cholesterol. This is often referred to as good cholesterol. This may prevent atheroma forming.
What factors affect the blood level of cholesterol?
To an extent your blood cholesterol level can vary depending on your diet. However, different people who eat the same diet can have different blood cholesterol levels. In general, however, if you eat less fatty food in your diet your cholesterol level is likely to go down. In some people a high cholesterol level is due to another condition. For example, an underactive thyroid gland, obesity, drinking a lot of alcohol and some rare kidney and liver disorders can raise the cholesterol level.
Everybody has some risk of developing atheroma which then may cause one or more cardiovascular diseases. However, some situations increase the risk. These include:
- Lifestyle risk factors that can be prevented or changed (e.g smoking)
- Lack of physical activity (a sedentary lifestyle)
- An unhealthy diet, including eating too much salt
- Excess alcohol
- Treatable or partly treatable risk factors (high blood pressure/hypertension)
- High cholesterol blood level
- High triglyceride (another type of fat) blood level
- Kidney diseases that affect kidney function
- Fixed risk factors - ones that you cannot alter (a strong family history - this means if you have a father or brother who developed heart disease or a stroke before they were 55, or in a mother or sister before they were 65)
- Being male
- An early menopause in women
- Age (you are more likely to develop atheroma as you get older)
- Ethnic group (e.g. people who live in the UK whose family came from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, or Sri Lanka have an increased risk)
Supplements that may benefit your heart and lower your cholesterol:
- Fish Oil
- Plant Sterols
- Fiber (Psyllium)
- Red Yeast Rice
- Green Tea Extract
- B-Complex Vitamins (B6, B12, Folic acid)
- Coenzyme Q10