Cholesterol is a fatty substance that occurs naturally in the body. It plays a vital role in keeping your cells working properly. Too much cholesterol can, however, be bad for your health.
Cholesterol is carried around the body by a protein and the combination is called a lipoprotein. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol is considered to be the “bad” cholesterol. It contributes to plaque that can clog your arteries and can ultimately result in a stroke. It carries cholesterol from your liver to your body tissues.
High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol is considered to be “good” cholesterol. HDL cholesterol helps remove LDL cholesterol from the arteries. It carries cholesterol away from your arteries and to the liver where it is eliminated.
To maintain healthy cholesterol levels, the LDL cholesterol level should be low whilst your HDL cholesterol level should be high. Cholesterol levels are measured in millimole per litre (mmol/L).
According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation of South Africa the following are target values for cholesterol:
|HDL cholesterol (women)
|HDL cholesterol (men)
According to the foundation, the most common cause of high cholesterol is too much saturated fat in the diet. “Other causes include an underactive thyroid gland, chronic kidney failure or alcohol abuse. Some people have naturally high blood cholesterol levels, due to a rare hereditary condition called familial hypercholesterolaemia (FH).”
How often should cholesterol be tested?
The foundation recommends that all adults should have a fasting lipogram at least once in their young adulthood (from the age of 20). “If your cholesterol levels are normal, you only need to test them again in a few years. But if your ‘bad’ cholesterol is high or you have a family history of high cholesterol or heart disease, have it checked regularly (every six months).”
Lowering cholesterol levels
Medication, diet, physical activity and lifestyle changes are critical for the lowering of cholesterol.
Changing your diet:
Unhealthy fats such as saturated and trans fats can raise cholesterol levels. These fats are present in foods like fatty and processed meats, chicken skin, full-cream dairy products, butter, ghee, cream and hard cheeses, and commercially baked goods such as pies, pastries, biscuits and crackers, fast foods and deep-fried potato (slap) chips.
The Heart and Stroke Foundation suggests that these fats be replaced with healthier unsaturated fats such as sunflower/canola/olive oil, soft tub margarines, peanut butter, nuts and seeds, avocado or fish. A high fibre diet is also recommended.
Other lifestyle changes to control cholesterol levels:
According to the foundation, keeping a healthy weight, quitting smoking, drinking less alcohol and regular physical activity can help to increase your HDL cholesterol levels. Read more about how to incorporate physical activity into your day here.
Sources: WebMD; The Heart and Stroke Foundation of South Africa; Flora Pro-Activ; The American Heart Association