Cholesterol- we all know it's bad for us, yet it seems to be in everything we love to eat.
From buttery pastries to deep-fried chicken, we know the risks of high cholesterol- heart attacks, strokes, and even premature death. But did you know just how widespread the issue is?
According to the World Health Organization, elevated cholesterol levels are a significant risk factor for heart disease and stroke, which together account for 15.2 million deaths globally each year.
And in the US, high cholesterol affects about 95 million adults – almost half of the country's adult population!
Cholesterol is often seen as the villain in the world of wellness. It is a fatty substance found in our blood that can contribute to heart disease and other health problems.
But did you know that cholesterol is essential for our bodies to function properly? Our liver produces cholesterol, and we also get it from the food we eat.
The problem arises when our cholesterol levels become too high. This can happen for a variety of reasons, including a diet high in saturated and trans fats, lack of exercise, and genetics.
High cholesterol levels can lead to a build-up of plaque in our arteries, which can increase our risk of heart disease and stroke.
First things first, not all cholesterol is bad, explains Dr Morgan Mkhatshwa, Clinical Executive at Bonitas Medical Fund.
He points out that there are two types: HDL (high-density lipoprotein) and LDL (low-density lipoprotein).
HDL is known as the "good" cholesterol because it helps to remove excess LDL or "bad" cholesterol from your bloodstream.
LDL, on the other hand, can form deposits in your arteries, leading to blockages and an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.
But don't worry, there are plenty of ways to lower your cholesterol levels and reduce your risk of heart disease.
Dr Mkhatshwa shares some tips and everything you need to know about cholesterol.
Eat a healthy diet - focus on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats like those found in nuts and avocados.
Get moving - regular exercise can help lower your cholesterol levels and improve your overall health.
Quit smoking - smoking can raise your cholesterol levels and increase your risk of heart disease.
Take medication if necessary – sometimes lifestyle changes aren't enough to lower cholesterol levels, and medication may be needed.
How often should you be tested?
Most healthy adults should have their cholesterol checked every four to six years. People who have heart disease, diabetes or a family history of high cholesterol, need to get their cholesterol checked more often.
What diseases or conditions result from high cholesterol levels?
When you have too much “bad” cholesterol in your blood, it can cause narrowing and blockages of the arteries – the blood vessels that carry blood to your heart muscle and other parts of your body. In time, this narrowing can lead to a heart attack, while blockages in the arteries of your brain can cause a stroke.
What kind of illnesses or diseases can cause elevated levels of LDL?
People with high blood pressure (hypertension) and diabetes often have high cholesterol. Some other health conditions that can also cause raised levels of cholesterol include kidney disease and liver disease.
What role does genetics play in high cholesterol levels?
The medical term for high blood cholesterol is “Familial hypercholesterolaemia”. It is an inherited condition characterised by higher-than-normal levels of LDL blood cholesterol.
It causes up to 10% of early-onset coronary artery disease – heart disease that occurs before the age of 55 years. The cause is a mutation in a gene.
Did you know?
* One-third of adults have high cholesterol.
* No one can live without cholesterol.
* High cholesterol could be genetic.
* Even children can have high cholesterol.
* Sweating can raise your good cholesterol levels.
* Supplements may work to lower cholesterol — but slowly.
Remember, high cholesterol doesn't have to be a death sentence. By making healthy lifestyle choices and working with your healthcare provider, you can lower your cholesterol levels and reduce your risk of heart disease. So go ahead, and enjoy that avocado on toast – your heart will thank you!