October is National Cholesterol month in the UK. HEART is a UK-based charity that aims to raise awareness of the risks of high cholesterol. In 2019, they are encouraging people to take 13,177 steps up to help raise awareness and funds for the charity. Cholesterol plays a big part in the state of your health, so here are 10 facts about it:
1. Cholesterol is a blood fat, which occurs naturally in the blood and it is needed to help our bodies stay healthy. It is part of all the cells of the body, it is involved in the production of Vitamin D and hormones to enable the bones, muscles and teeth to stay healthy and makes bile, which helps the body digest food.
2. High cholesterol can be caused by genetic factors (familial hypercholesterolemia), or by lifestyle factors, or a combination of both. Lifestyle factors that may affect levels could include a diet high in saturated fat. This includes dairy, red meat and processed meat such as bacon and sausages. The disease could also be caused by a sedentary lifestyle, smoking, drinking too much alcohol or carrying too much fat around the middle.
3. There are two different types of cholesterol - HDL which is considered a good type and non-HDL which is more likely to cause a stroke or heart problems. Triglycerides are a fatty type of substance which is similar to non-HDL cholesterol. The standard tests should measure levels of all three.
4. Women are more likely to have higher levels of HDL or good cholesterol than men.
5. When a woman is pregnant, her levels of cholesterol and triglycerides can temporarily rise. It is not recommended for women to be tested during pregnancy and for three months afterwards, as false readings are more likely to occur.
6. The menopause can also cause women’s levels to rise.
7. There are no external symptoms that reveal high cholesterol - people can be young and slim and still have the disease. The only way to be sure is to go for a simple test.
8. The risks of high cholesterol include the risks of heart failure or a heart attack, clogged arteries, a stroke or vascular dementia.
9. Levels of cholesterol can be altered through a change of lifestyle. Increasing exercise, eating more healthily and cutting back levels of saturated fat, while eating ‘good’ fats can help to lower levels.
10. People can book into their GP at any time for a cholesterol test, which involves a finger prick test or a blood test. Certain groups of people may be asked to go regularly for a test. These include people aged between 40-74 years, every 5 years, people at high risk of heart disease or who have been diagnosed with heart disease, people on medication to lower their cholesterol or people who have a close family relative with familial hypercholesterolemia or a genetic disposition. Children who have parents with this gene, should have their cholesterol levels tested from 10 years.
HeartUK is the only UK charity that focuses on the disease and aims to help people make lifestyle changes.