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Cholesterol - do you know your numbers?

More than two in five people in England have high cholesterol. But with few signs or symptoms, how do you know if you've got high cholesterol?

Earlier this year, the NHS announced that more than two in five people in England have high cholesterol, putting them at significant risk of developing heart and circulatory diseases, including heart attack and stroke [1].

But there are simple things you can do to help bring your cholesterol down to a healthy level. So, let’s have a look at the different types of cholesterol, how to check your cholesterol and how you can lower bad cholesterol.

WHAT IS CHOLESTEROL?

Cholesterol is a fatty substance in our blood, produced naturally in the liver. Everyone has cholesterol because every cell in our body needs it to stay healthy. Cholesterol plays a vital role in maintaining our cell membranes, production of vitamin D and bile acid; it is used to produce many hormones, such as testosterone and oestrogen.

So why all the bad press? Well, there are two types of cholesterol – good cholesterol and bad cholesterol. And too much bad cholesterol gets stuck to the walls of your arteries, increasing your risk of heart disease or stroke.

Good cholesterol vs bad cholesterol

As cholesterol travels around our bodies in the blood and is bound to small proteins called lipoproteins, high-density lipoproteins (HDL) remove cholesterol from our tissues and take it back to the liver to be recycled. Because of this helpful role in the body, HDL is often referred to as good cholesterol and it offers a protective role.

In contrast, low-density lipoproteins (LDL) carry cholesterol from the liver to our tissues, depositing it on our artery walls. Too much LDL leads to fatty plaques developing, which block the blood vessels and increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke.

Although high levels of LDL in our bodies have a negative effect, these proteins are still important for our health as, at low levels, they are useful in the production of vitamin D and steroid hormones.

WHAT AFFECTS CHOLESTEROL LEVELS IN THE BODY?

Key risk factors for developing high cholesterol:

  • Smoking
  • Not being active
  • High alcohol intake
  • Family history of heart disease
  • Eating a lot of saturated or trans-fat
  • Having too much body fat, especially around your middle

Cholesterol, hypercholesterolemia, and thyroid disease

As well as diet and lifestyle, our cholesterol levels can also be affected by having certain conditions such as familial hypercholesterolemia and thyroid disease.

Hormones produced by our thyroid gland play a major role in regulating the metabolism and aid in the breakdown of fats, including cholesterol. So, an underactive or overactive thyroid gland can affect the body’s ability to process cholesterol.

Hypothyroidism can also lead to hypercholesterolemia, which is the increase of LDL cholesterol in the body. If you are experiencing symptoms of a thyroid-related condition, then a thyroid-related blood test can provide a simple way to check your thyroid function.

Is it possible to lower cholesterol?

It is possible to get your cholesterol back to a healthy level through healthy swaps. For instance, you can lower your cholesterol by making minor changes to your diet and lifestyle choices [2].

Foods containing saturated fats, including red meat, cheeses, fats, and oils, contain high amounts of cholesterol. Whereas animal products, plants do not contain cholesterol. Eating fresh fruit, vegetables, seeds, nuts, and whole grains can help to lower cholesterol. Reducing alcohol intake and exercising more also helps to lower the risk of cholesterol-related diseases.

Ways to lower cholesterol:

  • Changing what you eat
  • Reducing how much alcohol you drink
  • Being more active
  • Stopping smoking

HOW CAN I CHECK MY CHOLESTEROL LEVELS?

Because there are no obvious signs of high cholesterol in our bodies, the only way to check cholesterol is through a blood test.

With a cholesterol blood test, you can measure your levels of triglycerides, LDL and HDL cholesterol, as well as determining your risk of heart disease based on the ratio of HDL to total cholesterol.

Our cholesterol test also checks for non-HDL cholesterol, which is calculated by subtracting your HDL cholesterol result from your total cholesterol. It, therefore, includes all the non-protective and potentially harmful cholesterol in your blood and is an effective marker for cardiovascular risk.

You can choose to do a Medichecks cholesterol blood test using our finger-prick test kit from the comfort of your own home, making it easier than ever to check your cholesterol levels and take control of your health.


Related tests

  • Cholesterol Home Blood Test A simple at-home blood test to measure triglycerides, LDL and HDL cholesterol, as well as determining your risk of heart disease, based on your ratio of HDL good to total cholesterol.
  • Heart Disease Risk Home Blood Test This test looks at the main risk factors for heart disease, including cholesterol and high sensitivity CRP, a measure of damaging inflammation.
  • Essential Blood Test This includes tests for diabetes, iron, cholesterol, inflammation and kidney and liver function.
  • Thyroid blood tests As thyroid health can affect cholesterol; a thyroid blood test can help you rule a thyroid-related condition in or out of your health investigations.

 References

1. https://www.england.nhs.uk/2021/09/nhs-cholesterol-busting-jab-to-save-thousands-of-lives/

2. https://www.bhf.org.uk/informationsupport/support/reducing-your-high-cholesterol