Cholesterol is an essential type of fat that is carried in the blood.
There are several types of cholesterol found in your body:
Low density lipoprotein (LDL) is also known as ‘bad’ cholesterol because it can add to the build-up of plaque in your arteries and increase your risk of coronary heart disease (CHD).
High density lipoprotein (HDL) is also known as ‘good’ cholesterol because it helps to protect you against CHD.
It is best to aim for low LDL cholesterol and higher HDL cholesterol.
Triglycerides are another type of fat in the blood. There is evidence to suggest that some people with higher levels of blood triglycerides are at increased risk of CHD.
Source: Heart Foundation www.heartfoundation.org.au
Scheduling in a cholesterol check
Cholesterol is something we don’t usually think about until we are told that it’s high, but it can become a problem when there is too much of it in your blood.
Too much cholesterol can damage your arteries so the higher your total blood cholesterol level, the higher your risk of coronary heart disease (CHD).
There are often no symptoms or signs of high cholesterol so it is important that you have regular cholesterol checks with simple blood tests.
Cardiologist Dr Donald Latchem from HeartCare WA says men should have their levels checked regularly from the age of 35 and women, from the age of 45 – sooner if you have a family history of high cholesterol or premature cardiovascular disease.
“Women are often naturally protected against CHD and usually don’t develop it for about a decade after men,” Dr Latchem says.
“If you know you have hypercholesterolaemia in the family, get checked more regularly and pay attention to your diet and exercise.”
Medical practitioners, however, do not only look at cholesterol levels when assessing your risk for CHD as there are other risk factors that come into play.
“Cholesterol is never seen in isolation; we need to look at the whole picture and look at other risk factors such as age, high blood pressure, sex, obesity, smoking, family history and diabetes,” Dr Latchem says.
“All these factors contribute to a person’s overall risk of CHD.”
Ideally, we should all be following a healthy lifestyle to help prevent CHD although if you find yourself with high cholesterol, there are ways to manage it with healthy eating and exercise.
“A low cholesterol diet is the kind of diet we should all have anyway,” Dr Latchem says.
“Adopt a diet that is seasonal, similar to the Mediterranean diet with plenty of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and fish.”
“Focus on avoiding processed foods and saturated and trans fats.”
“Make it a diet you can have for life; one that is easy to maintain.”
Other lifestyle modifications include:
- Be smoke free
- Keep a healthy weight
- Exercise regularly
- Limit your alcohol consumption
- Manage your stress
If your cholesterol levels are in the very high range (above 7.0), or your overall cardiovascular risk is high, there are medications called statins that can reduce the amount of cholesterol your liver produces, and therefore reduce your risk.
The main side effects are musculoskeletal aches, and there are some reports of memory loss. See your cardiologist if you experience any side effects.