Information For Patients

What you need to know about cholesterol

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a soft waxy substance found in your blood and in all your body’s cells. You need a certain amount of cholesterol for producing cell membranes and for producing hormones.

However, too much cholesterol is a major risk for heart disease (which can lead to heart attack) and for stroke. Heart disease can be inherited so if there is a history of heart disease in your family or you already have heart disease, making small changes now can make a difference to your life today and tomorrow.


What does cholesterol do?

When there is too much cholesterol in the blood it sticks to the inside of your arteries and blood vessels and makes the arteries narrow. This process is called atherosclerosis. If an artery supplying the heart becomes completely blocked, the heart becomes damaged. This is known as a heart attack. If an artery to the brain is completely blocked, it damages the brain. This is called a stroke.


Where does cholesterol come from?

Cholesterol comes from two sources: your body and food. Your liver and other cells in your body make about 75% of blood cholesterol. The other 25% comes from the foods you eat.

Cholesterol is transported around the body by carriers called lipoproteins. Low-density lipoprotein (or LDL) is known as “bad” cholesterol. High-density lipoprotein (or HDL) is known as “good” cholesterol. LDL and HDL, along with triglycerides and Lp(a) cholesterol, make up your total cholesterol count, which can be determined through a blood test.

LDL (Bad) Cholesterol is so called because it sticks to the walls of your arteries causing atherosclerosis. This reduces the blood supply to the heart and brain. Eating too many foods high in saturated fat (butter, hard margarine, cream, cakes, biscuits, chocolate, crisps, chips, fatty meat) can raise your LDL cholesterol.

HDL (Good) Cholesterol or healthy cholesterol gathers up cholesterol left behind in your arteries and carries it to the liver where it is broken down and carried out of the body.

Regular physical activity and exercise can help increase your HDL level.

Triglyceride is a form of fat made in the body. High triglycerides can be due to overweight/obesity, physical inactivity, cigarette smoking, excess alcohol and a diet very high in carbohydrates.

Lp(a) Cholesterol is a genetic variation of LDL cholesterol. A high level of Lp(a) is a significant risk factor for the development of fatty deposits in arteries.


Is your cholesterol level too high?

High cholesterol is one of the major controllable risk factors for coronary heart disease, heart attack and stroke. Your cholesterol can be measured by a blood test. Total cholesterol levels should be no greater than 5 mmol/l. LDL cholesterol should be no greater than 3 mmol/l and HDL cholesterol should be greater than 1mmol/l.

If you need to change your cholesterol levels, your doctor can advise you on lifestyle changes and may recommend medication. A dietician can give you more information on how to make appropriate changes to your diet.


How can I lower my cholesterol level?

* Get down to a healthy weight – being overweight means your heart has to work harder to pump blood around your body.

* Eat oily fish (salmon, trout, mackerel, herring, sardines) twice a week

* Eat more fruit and vegetables – aim for 5 portions each day!

* Eat more wholegrain cereals and breads, jacket potatoes, brown rice and pasta.

* Choose lean meats. Trim fat off meat and skin off chicken. Drain oil from cooked dishes containing mince meat.

* Choose low fat dairy products.

* Choose low fat dairy spreads made from sunflower or olive oil.

* Choose less foods that are high in fats and sugars; butters, oils, margarines, cakes,biscuits, chips, crisps, sweets.

* Use low fat healthy ways of cooking, like steaming, grilling, or oven-baking instead of frying.

* Be more active. Exercise more.
Source:    www.indi.ie