More than half of adults in the UK suffer from high cholesterol and it is becoming an enormous health issue according to a leading heart charity.
Heart UK reports six out of 10 adults have high cholesterol and as the symptoms are hard to pinpoint a heart attack could be the first sign something is wrong.
Cholesterol is a waxy, fatty substance, made primarily in the liver but can also be found in certain foods.
There are both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ cholesterol. ‘Good’ cholesterol (high density lipoprotein cholesterol, or HDL) protects your body by removing excess cholesterol from your blood to your liver, where it is removed from your body. It also supports the membranes in cells. But high levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol, or to give it its full name, low-density lipoprotein (LDL), can collect in the walls of your blood vessels, causing blockages and narrowing artery walls. This can lead to a greater risk of cardiovascular problems, including heart disease and stroke.
However lifestyle can be a big factor. Smoking, an unhealthy diet and a lack of physical activity can lead to higher levels of bad cholesterol. Cutting down on fatty food, including more fruit and veg in your diet, taking regular exercise and giving up smoking will all help. If you have high levels your doctor might also suggest taking statins. It can help to know your family’s medical history too so it may be worth doing a bit of research. There is an increased risk if you have a close relative with high cholesterol or a close relative who has had a heart attack or angina before the age of 50 in a man or 60 in a woman.
Other factors which may make it more likely you have unhealthy cholesterol levels include type 2 diabetes and fatty deposits on the eyelids or a white ring around the iris of the eye. It must be remembered that not everyone with these signs will have high cholesterol and to help prevent cardiovascular (heart and circulatory) disease anyone over the age of 40 should have their cholesterol tested every five years.
As there are no obvious symptoms the first sign something is wrong could be angina which is caused by the narrowing of one or more arteries that feed the heart, a heart attack which is caused by a blockage in one of the arteries that feed the heart, a stroke which is caused by a blockage in one of the arteries in the neck or brain or pain when walking which is caused by a blockage to an artery that feeds the leg muscles.
Good and bad cholesterol levels can be measured by a blood test. Your GP might suggest a test if you are diabetic, have high blood pressure, or have a family history of heart disease.
Soya foods: 15g of soya protein a day, found in things like edamame beans, tofu and soya milk, can lower your cholesterol by around 6%.
Nuts: A handful of nuts (30-35g) a day could lower cholesterol on average by 5%.
Oats and barley: Rich in beta glucan, a form of soluble fibre, which prevents cholesterol from being absorbed in the intestines.
Seeds: A natural source of cholesterol-lowering plant sterols and stanols.
Eat fruit, vegetables and unsaturated fat.