Cholesterol is one of those words we hear and see around us all the time, yet very few people know what it actually is. In fact, educating yourself about it could save your life. Here are some basics to get you started:
What is cholesterol?
The simple explanation is that cholesterol is an important component of our system known as a sterol. It performs several vital functions, including being a building block of our cells, helping our body to process hormones and vitamins, and repairing muscles.
So what’s the problem?
Cholesterol moves around the body attached to another type of particle, called a lipoprotein. There are several types of lipoprotein, including a high-density (HDL) and low-density (LDL) version. HDLs are thought of as “good cholesterol” as they help to move extra cholesterol to the liver, where it is processed.
LDLs take cholesterol from the liver and carry it to wherever else it’s needed in the body. If there’s too much of this type of lipoprotein though, some of it stays floating in the blood for a while. Add any other health problems, like high glucose levels or digestive issues, and the LDLs start to oxidise. They can then be absorbed by the artery wall, causing it to thicken and restricting blood flow, which causes all sorts of problems such as clots. LDLs are then referred to as “bad cholesterol”.
Where can I get my cholesterol checked?
There are often no external signs of high cholesterol until it’s far advanced, so the best thing is to have it regularly checked at a clinic or pharmacy. For a small fee and with a simple prick of the finger, you’ll receive the results immediately. If it’s higher than normal, you’ll probably be advised to do a more detailed test.
How can I keep my cholesterol levels healthy?
There are different theories on this, but in general:
- Eat a healthy diet, high in fresh fruit and veg
- Avoid processed fats, like sunflower oil and margarine (found in most fast foods)
- Eat food high in healthy fats instead, like avocados, nuts, olives and oily fish like mackerel
- Boost your intake of foods high in fibre, like oats, legumes (beans, lentils and chickpeas), brown rice and whole wheat bread
- Don’t smoke
- Get regular exercise
Following these tips to keep your cholesterol in check sounds like a good recipe for a healthy life anyway!