October 2020 is National Cholesterol Month. Our Director of Wellbeing, Sue Jones, is here to debunk some of the common misunderstandings about Cholesterol…
Cholesterol is all bad, right?
Wrong! Cholesterol is actually needed by the body. It is a type of blood fat which plays an integral role in keeping our cells working. It’s required to, amongst other things; make vitamin D; aid the digestion process and make hormones to keep our bones strong.
Cholesterol is found in every cell in our body and is particularly important in the functioning of the brain, nerves and skin. It forms part of the membrane (outer layer) of the body’s cells and is used to make bile, which helps us to digest the fats that we eat.
Okay, so cholesterol keeps things ‘ticking over’, what is it actually made of?
Cholesterol is made in the liver and it is classed as a fatty substance. It can also be found in some foods too, but only around 20% tends to come from food.
Total cholesterol is measured by a blood test and looks at the overall amount of cholesterol in your blood stream, including the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ levels, which can be described as follows:
- Good cholesterol (known as HDL) makes it less likely that a person could have heart problems or a stroke.
- Bad cholesterol (known as LDL or non-HDL) makes it more likely that a person could have heart problems or a stroke.
- Triglycerides are a fatty substance which are similar to LDL or non-HDL
So if Cholesterol is needed by the body, why does it have such a bad reputation?
Cholesterol within healthy levels is a good thing, it’s when LDL cholesterol gets too high that it can cause problems such as a higher risk of a heart attack or a stroke.
I’m slim, young and healthy, surely I have nothing to worry about?
Unfortunately this is not the case. Anyone can have high cholesterol. It’s not something that causes symptoms or is obvious from looking at a person. The only way to tell is to have a cholesterol test.
What can raise Cholesterol?
There are several factors, some which can be controlled and some which cannot:
- A diet which is high in saturated fats can raise your cholesterol level.
- Leading too sedentary a lifestyle, so the fats which you eat aren’t used up through energy expenditure.
- Having a genetic predisposition/condition which means that the fats in your bloodstream aren’t processed in the normal way.
So how can I lower Cholesterol?
- Try to eat less fatty foods, especially those which are high in saturated fat. Try to follow the Pareto rule for a healthier lifestyle – 80% healthy foods, 20% ‘treat’ foods. Unsaturated fats are still okay to eat within reason as they are a healthier type of fat.
- Eat more of the following: oily fish such as mackerel or salmon, nuts and seeds, brown rice, bread and pasta, fruits and vegetables.
- Try to eat less; butter and lard, fatty meats such as sausages and bacon with fat on, cakes and biscuits, food containing coconut or palm oil, hard cheeses like cheddar.
- Exercise more; try to hit UK government recommendations of at least two and a half hours of exercise per week. Try to find an exercise that works for you and that you enjoy. If you don’t enjoy it, chances are that you will not carry on doing it! Try to find an exercise that you will be able to carry on doing for the vast majority of your life. If you are not a ‘sporty’ type of person, maybe consider exercises such as walking, swimming, pilates and yoga.
- If you are a smoker, stop smoking. Contact your GP or the NHS Stop Smoking Service on 0300 123 1044 (England only).
- Cut down on alcohol. Try to have at least 3 alcohol-free days per week. Avoid binge drinking and don’t drink more than 14 units of alcohol per week.
Would you like further advice?
Our expert team are always happy to help. Get in touch with us to find out more.