Too much cholesterol (lipid fats) in your blood will block your arteries, causing stroke and heart attacks.
Persistently high blood levels of cholesterol can stick to the walls of your arteries, causing fatty plaques that harden, making the arteries stiff and narrow – atherosclerosis. Eventually a blockage occurs, stopping blood flowing to the relevant tissue. In the arteries to the heart this can cause a heart attack, where areas of heart muscle don’t get any blood and die. The heart then fails as a pump.
In the brain, plaques block the blood flow to brain tissue (a stroke) and the effects will depend on which bit of the brain has been injured. Atherosclerosis can affect any artery in the body, for example the leg arteries, where peripheral arterial disease (PAD) causes cramp-like pains and eventually gangrene of the foot. Blood clots can also form over these plaques and then break away, blocking other blood vessels.
There are different types of cholesterol. Doctors talk about ‘good cholesterol’, or high density lipoprotein (HDL), which takes lipid fat away to the liver for breakdown; and ‘bad cholesterol’, including low density lipoprotein (LDL), which carries lipid fats to the cells, where it builds up.
We now look at the ratio between different types to predict your risk rather than just the LDL. The biggest factor affecting your lipid fat levels is your genetics, so elevated levels and thus, heart attacks or strokes/ often run in families. The excessive cholesterol levels of familial hypercholesterolaemia are known to be a major risk. Families of South Asian background particularly tend to have a greater genetic risk.
What You Can Do
Lifestyle and overall health also affect your levels. Eating an excessive saturated fat diet, being overweight (especially with fat around your middle), not being active, drinking a lot of alcohol and smoking are all risk factors. Other chronic diseases such as diabetes, liver or kidney disease and having an underactive thyroid also increase your risk of atherosclerosis.
Get your doctor to check your blood and then discuss your personal risk. There are several risk calculators available online, such as QRISK3, which take into account all sorts of factors to predict your risk of heart disease or stroke. You may need to change your lifestyle or discuss medication (statins) to reduce your cholesterol levels.
Ways to Keep Cholesterol in Check
Stop smoking a chemical called acrolein in tobacco stops your ‘good’ HDL taking cholesterol from fatty plaques to the liver to be broken down.
Cholesterol-lowering foods include oily fish, soya products, all nuts (avoid salted types), oats or barley and veg such as avocado, pulses and beans.
Foods with added plant stanols and sterols, such as some spreads and yogurts, block absorption of dietary cholesterol. Look for the ‘heart healthy’ symbol.
Talk to your doctor about your levels and what changes you can make in your lifestyle to help you lower your heart risk.
E337 – High Cholesterol Coping Mechanism – www.diabetic.today