What is cholesterol? Cholesterol is a fat like substance which is produced by the liver. It is found in all cells of the body and in the blood. Another source of cholesterol for the body is the food that we eat. These include foods such as dairy products (milk, cheese, cream etc) deep fried fast foods, processed foods such as pastries and takeaway foods such as pizza. Cholesterol is essential in the body for synthesis of the cell wall, tissues, hormones, vitamin D and bile acid.
Broadly, there are five types of cholesterol that can be measured: high density lipoprotein (HDL), low density lipoprotein (LDL), triglycerides, very low-density lipoprotein and total cholesterol. Of main interests are the high-density lipoprotein and low-density lipoprotein which are commonly referred to as the good and bad cholesterol respectively. So why the terms good and bad cholesterol?
LDL is considered bad as it builds up on the walls of your major arteries to form a plaque. This goes on to narrow the blood vessels and limit the space in which blood flows. With this the risk of developing blood clots increases. The blood clots can go on to block the blood supply to your heart or brain which can lead to a heart attack or stroke respectively. HDL on the other hand is our saviour. It functions to return LDL cholesterol back to the liver for destruction. This reduces the chances of cholesterol plaque build-up and the sequelae that has been explained above. It is thus beneficial.
It is important to regularly check your cholesterol levels especially if someone in your family suffered or is suffering from heart disease. Other risk factors include high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, obesity, high fatty diet, smoking and a sedentary lifestyle. Generally, the older generations are at a higher risk. However, with the changes in lifestyle within the past few decades the younger population are slowly becoming at risk.
Some of the warning symptoms that you have high cholesterol include severe sudden chest pain that extends to your left arm and jaw, shortness of breath on slight exertion, extreme fatigue, nausea among others. If you experience such symptoms, it may be wise to make a visit to a doctor. The doctor may advise you to carry out some tests such as a lipid profile. In this test the levels of low-density lipoprotein, high density lipoprotein, triglycerides and total cholesterol will be analysed. If LDL is found to be above the normal range, 130 mg/dL., the doctor may prescribe lipid lowering drugs such as statins. The doctor will also advise you on some lifestyle changes that will involve your diet and physical activity.
High cholesterol levels are preventable for most people. Talk to a doctor today and take control of your health.