In 2013, figures released by the ABS showed that 5.6 million Australian adults had high total cholesterol with most people unaware of their elevated cholesterol levels. For those unsure of their cholesterol levels, it’s a good idea for anyone over the age of 30 to have their cholesterol levels checked by a doctor.
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a group of fats. It is a fat like substance called a lipid that is primarily produced by the liver. Your body needs cholesterol to carry out various processes in the body and acts as a starting point for some hormones and generally plays an important role in maintaining good health. However, too much of the wrong type of cholesterol can leave a build-up of fat (fatty deposit) in the arteries. This may damage your arteries and may raise your risk of heart disease.
Types of cholesterol
There are 2 main types of cholesterol, known as high-density lipoprotein or HDL (also known as ‘good’ cholesterol) or low-density lipoprotein or LDL (also known as ‘bad’ cholesterol).
Although your body needs healthy levels of both types of lipoproteins, having high levels of LDL can cause plaque to grow inside your arteries, and may increase your risk for heart disease.
It’s also important you have high levels of HDL in comparison to LDL to lower your risk of heart disease.
It is the ratio of LDL to HDL that determines whether you have a healthy cholesterol balance. Triglycerides are another type of fat which mainly come from the food we eat. An unhealthy lifestyle and being overweight are common causes of elevated triglycerides.
Your doctor can check your blood levels of LDL and HDL cholesterol, triglycerides and total cholesterol to see if they are within normal limits.
A change in blood cholesterol usually has no signs or symptoms, and may be unknown until checked by your doctor with a blood test.
What may cause an unhealthy cholesterol balance?
Changes in LDL and HDL cholesterol in your blood can be caused by various risk factors you can control, including:
• Your diet - the food you eat can affect your levels of LDL and HDL
• Lack of physical activity - inactivity can lead to putting on weight or obesity, which may alter your levels of LDL and HDL in your blood
• Smoking - this also increases your risk for heart disease.
Certain animal products can be high in cholesterol, such as egg yolks, meat and cheese. Other foods that are high in saturated fats and trans fats can increase your levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol, such as some meat, baked foods, dairy products and deep-fried and processed foods.
You may also have risk factors that predispose you to changes in cholesterol levels that you can’t control, such as your family history and age.
If you’re worried you may have risk factors for changes in blood cholesterol levels, it’s best to visit your healthcare professional for an assessment.
Helping to maintain a healthy cholesterol ratio
An unhealthy balance of cholesterol may be avoided and aided with therapeutic lifestyle changes, including:
• Eating a healthy diet with plenty of fresh produce
• Maintaining a healthy weight
• Exercising regularly.
Your health professional may also encourage you to follow a cholesterol-lowering diet. These diets usually focus on limiting certain fats and including soluble fibre.
If you are overweight or obese, you may need to maintain a healthy weight by increasing physical activity and eating a healthy, well-balanced diet. Regular exercise may also help improve cholesterol levels in your blood - even if you have a healthy weight.
If you smoke or are exposed often to second hand smoke, you should discuss with your doctor or healthcare professional options to help you stop smoking and avoiding second hand smoke.
Your doctor should make an assessment of your overall cardiovascular health and order a blood test to check your cholesterol levels.
Depending on your risk for heart disease, you may be prescribed treatments to help lower cholesterol levels in your blood. It’s important to take these as recommended.
If you want to maintain healthy cholesterol levels, lifestyle and diet recommendations are also important.
• High blood cholesterol is a serious health concern in Australia, with more than half of the adult population living with total blood cholesterol levels higher than recommended
• If you have any of the risk factors, knowing your cholesterol levels, including LDL,HDL and triglyceride levels can help you better understand your health and consequently make any changes
• You may also consider having regular blood tests as recommended by your healthcare professional, and follow their recommendations for treatment.
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