Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that your body needs to function normally. It’s naturally present in cells throughout the body including the brain, nerves, muscles, skin, liver, intestines and heart. Your body also uses cholesterol to produce many hormones, vitamin D and the bile needed to help digest fat.
If you have too much cholesterol in your bloodstream, the excess may be deposited in arteries, where it contributes to the narrowing and blockages that cause heart disease.
A simple blood test checks for high cholesterol, but knowing your total cholesterol level is not enough. A Comprehensive Cardiovascular Risk Assessment measures your total cholesterol, LDL (the “bad” cholesterol), HDL (“good” cholesterol), and triglycerides – another fatty substance in the blood – as well as other factors associated with cardiovascular disease.
Healthy adults should have this analysis every 5 years as the risk of having high cholesterol increases with age.
A desirable total cholesterol level is 200 mg/dL (milligrams per decilitre) or lower. Desirable LDL is 100 mg/dL and HDL, the “good cholesterol,” should be at least 40 mg/dL or greater – the higher the number the better, with 60 mg/dL being protective against heart disease.
High cholesterol is usually discovered during routine screening and has no symptoms. It’s more common if you have a family history of it, but lifestyle factors also play a major role.
Genetic predisposition: high cholesterol and heart disease often run in families. If you have a family history of these conditions you might want to consider a genetic test to look into this and enable you to make choices to help before anything manifests.
Diet: a small amount of cholesterol comes directly from your diet, but the majority is produced by your liver. A diet high in saturated fats (a type of fat found mostly in foods that come from animals) and dietary cholesterol this can cause your liver to produce more LDL – the bad cholesterol. Trans-fatty acids found in many processed foods and many “fast foods” can also increase LDL levels. In addition, the fibre content of your diet is important as this helps to lower cholesterol levels.
If you have a family history of high cholesterol or have the condition yourself, a consultation with Smart Nutrition provides you with practical advice on how to alter your diet reduce your cholesterol and prevent a more serious condition developing. Click the button at the bottom of the page for more information.
Being overweight: studies show that people who are overweight are more likely to have high cholesterol. Excess weight can also increase your LDL (bad) cholesterol level.
If you’re overweight and have a high LDL cholesterol level, losing weight may help you lower it. Weight loss also helps to lower triglycerides and raise HDL (good) cholesterol levels.
Smart Nutrition can help you to set – and achieve – realistic goals, and support and motivate you through the process.
Lack of exercise: regular physical activity can lower triglycerides and raise HDL (good) cholesterol levels along with its many other health benefits.
If you need to attend to your cholesterol levels and cardiovascular health but take little physical exercise, Smart Nutrition can help you to put together an appropriate and enjoyable exercise regime as part of your treatment plan.
Stress: research shows that stress raises blood cholesterol levels over the long term.
Stress may do this is by affecting your habits: for example, stress may cause some people to console themselves by eating fatty foods, which contribute to higher levels of blood cholesterol.
If you have a stressful lifestyle, you should definitely have your cholesterol level checked regularly. An Adrenal Stress Test can also assess stress levels and identify ways to support the body. Smart Nutrition can also put together a specific diet, lifestyle and supplement plan to reduce your stress response and help you to manage your cholesterol levels.