High cholesterol: what it means, what causes it and how to reduce your levels
Cholesterol plays an important role in how your body functions, but what exactly is it and what does it mean if your levels are too high?
This is everything you need to know.
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol charity Heart UK explains that “cholesterol is a fatty substance which is made in the liver. It’s found in some foods too.
“We all need some cholesterol in our bodies just to keep us ticking over but having too much can clog up your arteries and lead to health problems in the future.”
The charity further adds that we need cholesterol as it “plays a vital role in how your body works.”
Cholesterol can be found in every cell in your body, being particularly important in your brain, nerves and skin.Heart UK notes that Cholesterol has three main jobs:
It’s part of the outer layer, or membrane, of all your body’s cells It’s used to make vitamin D and steroid hormones which keep your bones, teeth and muscles healthy It’s used to make bile, which helps to digest the fats you eat
What should your cholesterol levels be?
Due to differences in genes, women naturally have higher HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol) levels than men, according to Heart UK. Women should aim for an HDL cholesterol level above 1.2mmol/L while men should aim for above 1mmol/L.However, during pregnancy, both cholesterol and triglyceride levels can significantly rise and women may also find that their cholesterol levels rise during the menopause.
Although you body needs cholesterol, too much of it could lead to problems.
The NHS explains that, “high cholesterol is when you have too much of a fatty substance called cholesterol in your blood.”
This is mainly caused by:
eating fatty food not exercising enough being overweight smoking and drinking alcohol.
It can also run in families.
You can lower your cholesterol by eating healthy foods and getting more exercise. However, some people may also need to take medicine.
To reduce your cholesterol, you should try to cut down on fatty foods, especially food that contains a type of fat called saturated fat.
However, you can still have foods that contain a healthier type of fat called unsaturated fat.
If possible, try to eat more:
oily fish - such as mackerel and salmon brown rice, bread and pasta nuts and seeds fruits and vegetables
If you have too much cholesterol this can:
block your blood vessels - which can make you more likely to have heart problems or a stroke
High cholesterol does not usually cause symptoms - you can only find out if you have it from a blood test.
The NHS adds, “Your GP might suggest having a test if they think your cholesterol level could be high.
“This may be because of your age, weight or another condition you have (like high blood pressure or diabetes).”
Possible link to motor neurone disease
Motor neurone disease (MND) is a rare and serious condition that affects the brain and nerves, but scientists believe that they may have found an underlying cause.
A team of scientists at the University of Exeter team says that it has found evidence that this progressive disease is linked to problems with cholesterol and other fats in cells.
The scientists realised that 13 genes - which can cause the condition if altered - were directly involved in the processing of cholesterol.
They now believe that this theory, which is outlined in a paper published in ‘Brain: A Journal of Neurology’, could help to predict both the course and severity of MND in patients, alongside monitoring the effect of any potential new drugs.
Lead author of the paper, Prof Andrew Crosby, said, "For years, we have known that a large number of genes are involved in motor neurone disease, but so far it hasn't been clear if there's a common underlying pathway that connects them."