What is cholesterol

what is cholesterol

How do I reduce cholesterol in my body?

Cholesterol is a waxy substance which is mainly made in the body. Blood lipids is the name for all the fatty substances in the blood including cholesterol and triglycerides. The liver makes it from the saturated fats from food. In fact, very little cholesterol is actually found in foods. The main culprits are eggs, offal and shellfish.

Cholesterol forms part of the outer membrane that surrounds every cell. It's used to insulate nerve fibres (and so make nerve signals travel properly) and make hormones, which carry chemical signals around the body.

Cholesterol plays a vital role in how every cell works throughout the body. It is the material which the body uses to make other vital chemicals. Too much cholesterol in the blood can increase your chances of getting heart and circulatory diseases.

LDL cholesterol & HDL cholesterol

Cholesterol is transported around the body in the blood attached to a protein. This combination of fat and protein is called a lipoprotein. Lipoproteins can be high density (HDL), low density (LDL) or very low density (VLDL), depending on how much protein there is in relation to fat.

What causes high cholesterol?

There are several factors that may contribute to high cholesterol:

  • A diet high in saturated fat
  • Lack of exercise may increase LDL ("bad") cholesterol and decrease HDL ("good") cholesterol
  • Family history - people are at a higher risk of high cholesterol if they have a direct male relative aged under 55 or a female relative aged under 65 affected by heart disease
  • Being overweight, which may increase LDL ("bad") cholesterol and decrease HDL ("good") cholesterol - why not try our weight loss program
  • Age and sex - cholesterol generally rises slightly with increasing age, and men are more likely to be affected than women
  • Drinking more than the recommended amount of alcohol (ie more than three to four units per day for men and two to three units per day for women)

Measuring cholesterol

Measuring cholesterol involves a simple blood test. Usually you will be asked not to eat for 12 hours before the test so that your food is completely digested and doesn't affect the test. A blood sample may be taken either by using a needle and a syringe, or by using a finger prick. You can have this test at your GP surgery, at a hospital appointment, or as part of a health assessment examination.

Home-testing kits for cholesterol may not be very accurate. Also, cholesterol is just one of the risk factors for heart disease. It should ideally be measured under medical supervision so that other important issues, such as blood pressure, age and whether or not you smoke, are taken into account. Speak to your pharmacist about your result if you do choose a home testing kit.

How to reduce cholesterol

There are a few simple steps you can take to reduce cholesterol in your body:

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