Welcome to another health update from the Port Moresby General Hospital, this week we are focusing on cholesterol. Did you know that high cholesterol is one of the major controllable risk factors for coronary heart disease, heart attack and stroke?
What Is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a waxy substance that comes from two sources: your body and food. Your body, and especially your liver, makes all the cholesterol you need and circulates it through the blood. However cholesterol is also found in foods from animal sources, such as meat, poultry and full-fat dairy products. Your liver will produce more cholesterol when you eat a diet high in saturated and trans fats which should only be consumed in moderation. Excess cholesterol can form plaque between layers of artery walls, making it harder for your heart to circulate blood, the plaque can then break open and cause blood clots. If a clot blocks an artery that feeds the brain, it can cause a stroke. If it blocks an artery that feeds the heart, it can cause a heart attack. Making healthy eating choices and increasing exercise are important first steps in improving your cholesterol.
There are two types of cholesterol: “good” and “bad.” Too much of one type — or not enough of another — can put you at risk for coronary heart disease, heart attack or stroke. It’s important to know the levels of cholesterol in your blood so that you and your doctor can determine the best strategy to lower your risk.
LDL – low-density lipoprotein (Bad) Cholesterol – LDL cholesterol is considered the “bad” cholesterol because it contributes to plaque, a thick, hard deposit that can clog arteries and make them less flexible. This condition is known as atherosclerosis.
HDL – high-density lipoprotein (Good) Cholesterol – HDL cholesterol is considered “good” cholesterol because it helps remove LDL cholesterol from the arteries. Experts believe HDL acts as a scavenger, carrying LDL cholesterol away from the arteries and back to the liver, where it is broken down and passed from the body. A healthy level of HDL cholesterol may also protect against heart attack and stroke while low levels of HDL cholesterol have been shown to increase the risk of heart disease.
Why Cholesterol Is Important –
We need a small amount of blood cholesterol because the body uses it to:
– Build the structure of cell membranes
– Make hormones like oestrogen, testosterone and adrenal hormones
– Help your metabolism work efficiently, for example, cholesterol is essential for your body to produce vitamin C.
– Produce bile acids, which help the body digest fat and absorb important nutrients.
Tip – Talk with your doctor about assessing your risk for a heart attack or stroke. Cholesterol levels are an important factor in estimating your personal risk.
Remember: Eating foods with saturated fat or trans fats also increases the amount of LDL cholesterol in your blood. If high blood cholesterol runs in your family, lifestyle modifications may not be enough to help lower your LDL blood cholesterol, talk to your doctor about cholesterol lowering medication.
We will be posting more information on Cholesterol over the next few days including parts 2 and 3 so check back soon.