Low cholesterol living
On its own, a High Blood cholesterol level is not necessarily a problem, but coupled with one or more of the other risk factors for Heart disease, such as being a man aged over 45 years or a woman over 55, smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes or a family history of Heart disease, it is often ‘the straw that breaks the camel’s back’.
Therefore, it’s really important to know what your cholesterol levels are and to keep them at a healthy level before you have any problems.
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a white, waxy substance which, despite its bad reputation, is essential for life. Without cholesterol our bodies could not manufacture a number of important hormones, and it also forms the outer membrane of some cells. Our liver actually manufactures about 70 to 80% of it, while the rest comes from the food we eat.
What causes problems?
Our liver makes all the cholesterol we need so, if we eat a lot, we get too much circulating in our blood. It tends to get stuck in the blood vessel walls, narrowing the vessels and making their walls harder, and increasing the risk of Heart disease.
While a high saturated fat diet is the usual cause of a High Blood cholesterol level, some people have a high level because of an inherited susceptibility. A High cholesterol level may also result from an underactive thyroid gland, chronic renal (kidney) failure, or alcohol abuse.
What is ‘good’ and what is ‘bad’ cholesterol?
Cholesterol, like fat, cannot move around the bloodstream on its own because it does not mix with water, the major ingredient of blood. So it hitches a ride with carriers called lipoproteins, of which there are several types - very low density lipoprotein (VLDL); low density lipoprotein (LDL); and high density lipoprotein (HDL).
Revision date: July 7, 2011
Last revised: by Janet A. Staessen, MD, PhD