Over half of all UK adults have raised cholesterol, which, if left unchecked can lead to serious issues with the heart and wider cardiovascular system. 315,000 people die prematurely from cardiovascular diseases linked to high cholesterol so it’s vital that you take notice of this increasingly common threat to your health.

However, not all cholesterol is bad, in fact we all need cholesterol to function properly. So what exactly is it, and why do we need to monitor levels of it within our body?

What is Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is best described as a fatty substance found within our blood. We produce it naturally from the liver and every cell in our body uses it in one way or another. We also ingest cholesterol through our food consumption. 

What’s important to remember is that there are two distinct types of cholesterol. High-density lipo-proteins (HDL) and non-high-density lipo-proteins (non-HDL).

The latter type of cholesterol was called “LDL” cholesterol for a number of years before studies discovered that there were many other harmful forms of non-HDL cholesterol, hence the name change.

There are key differences between the two types:

  • HDL Cholesterol – Known as “good” cholesterol, its main function is to get rid of the “bad” cholesterol in your blood. It takes “bad” cholesterol and deposits it back with the liver where it can be broken down and excreted out of the body.
  • Non-HDL Cholesterol – Known as “bad” cholesterol, excessive amounts tend to bind together and build up within the walls of blood vessels. This gradual build-up leads to the narrowing of arteries, increasing your chances of having a heart attack or a stroke.

Why Is High Cholesterol Bad for You?

As just mentioned, whilst we need cholesterol, having too much non-HDL cholesterol results in build-ups which stick to the inside walls of your arteries.

The process of this fatty material build-up is known as atherosclerosis. Once this process has begun it becomes much more difficult for blood to flow freely through arteries which can lead to a heart attack or stroke.

If you have a high overall cholesterol level, then you could you have dangerous amounts of non-HDL cholesterol.

How is Cholesterol Measured?

The method for measuring cholesterol levels is a simple blood test. It’s able to distinguish between the two different types of cholesterol as well as giving you an overall cholesterol level.

The unit of measurement used for cholesterol levels is millimoles per litre of blood (mmol/Litre).

Anything above 5 mmol/Litre is considered raised cholesterol. In general, a healthy adult should aim for a total cholesterol level of 5 mmol/Litre and no more than 3 mmol/Litre of non-HDL cholesterol.

However, individual circumstances have a bearing of what you should be aiming for. External factors such as smoking, obesity and diabetes could all have an effect on cholesterol targets. 

What Causes High Cholesterol Levels?

Anyone can develop high cholesterol levels, sometimes they are caused by poor lifestyle choices, in other cases high cholesterol levels are genetically inherited.

Making poor choices with nutrition, not getting enough exercise, and being overweight are all contributing factors to high cholesterol levels.

However, factors outside of your control may also contribute to high cholesterol such as: age, gender, ethnicity, familial genetic predisposition, kidney or liver disease, or an underactive thyroid. 

How to Lower Cholesterol?

If you’ve found out that you’ve got high levels of non-HDL cholesterol, then there are simple measures you can take to improve your health.

Firstly, if you are a smoker, then quitting will reduce your cholesterol levels whilst also reducing risks of other smoking related diseases such as cancer.

Next, you can improve your nutritional choices by eating a healthy and well-balanced diet, avoiding foods heavy in saturated fats. It’s also a good idea to monitor your alcohol consumption to make sure it doesn’t exceed the national recommended daily amount.

Increasing your exercise is a great way to lower non-HDL cholesterol levels. Not only will you lower your levels of “bad” cholesterol, but you’ll also lose weight and reduce risks of other weight-related disease such as diabetes.

Why Cholesterol is Labelled a “Silent Killer”

Despite cholesterol levels being relatively easily to measure, even dangerously high levels of non-HDL cholesterol often present no symptoms until it’s too late (e.g. heart attack or stroke).

That’s why it’s important to have regular health checks to make sure that you’re staying on top of your cholesterol levels. With packages provided by DocHQ you have access to annual health checks as well as doctor appointments in as little as 24 hours to make sure nothing is missed.

If you would like access to annual health checks as part of your workplace wellness programme, don’t hesitate to get in touch with a member of our team to discuss your requirements.   

By using our app, downloaded free from App store or Google Play, you can also run your symptoms through our symptom checker to receiving suggestions for next steps in a mere matter of seconds.

DocHQ Ltd is a Health Tech company improving choices. We help you connect efficiently to health support and advice whether you are at home, work or travelling. See our website for our services or call us on 0330 088 0645.