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Your health: High cholesterol – do you have it?

Are you a chocoholic? Or maybe you like cheese and biscuits with pickle (yum), or perhaps neither of those things appeals and you would prefer a nice crisp salad with a healthy dressing? Believe it or not, no matter what sort of food you eat, you could have high cholesterol. In fact, 2 out of 3 adults in the UK have high cholesterol.

Although unhealthy eating contributes to high cholesterol, some people are predisposed to it because of an inherited condition: Familial Hypercholesterolaemia. Having an underactive thyroid, long-term kidney problems and having too much alcohol also contribute to high cholesterol.

Like high blood pressure, high cholesterol doesn’t have symptoms and is called a silent killer because once symptoms are experienced it’s too late.

So what is cholesterol? Cholesterol is a waxy substance which is mostly made in the liver from the fats in the food we eat. Cholesterol in the right amounts helps the body to function; it plays an important role in how every cell works and makes vital chemicals.

There are two main types of cholesterol; LDL cholesterol travels from the liver, through the bloodstream to the cells. HDL cholesterol returns excess LDL that isn’t needed, back to the liver to get broken down.

LDL is often called ‘bad cholesterol’ because too much in the bloodstream causes waxy plaques (atherosclerosis) to line the walls of the arteries, commonly known as hardening of the arteries. These plaques cause cardiovascular disease (CVD) such as coronary heart disease, kidney disease and peripheral arterial disease. When these plaques or blood clots that form around the plaques break away, they cause a heart attack or stroke.

Cardiovascular disease is the biggest killer in the UK. It affects both men and women. It may surprise you to know more women die from coronary heart disease than they do breast cancer! Recent figures show that high cholesterol is highest in the East Midlands for women.

How can you lower your cholesterol? Physical activity can increase HDL, which removes bad cholesterol. Eating healthily, avoiding foods such as biscuits, cakes, fast food, pastries and some margarines will all help. Certain foods also help lower cholesterol.

It is important to check your personal risk of a cardiovascular event because doing something about it now will avoid problems later.