What is cholesterol? Cholesterol is a fatty substance in the blood. Your body needs cholesterol to make hormones, and vitamin D and to fortify the membranes of the cells. Cholesterol is made by the liver or can be absorbed by a diet containing meat and dairy.
Like everything in the body, there is a balance. Too much cholesterol in the blood leads to cholesterol building up in the arteries. The body tries to rectify this with white blood cells called macrophages. Eventually, the amount of cholesterol leads to the macrophages reacting and becoming foam cells further adding to the build-up of plaque in the arteries.
This build-up is known as atherosclerosis. The plaque narrows the arteries compromising the oxygen supply to surrounding tissue as a bottleneck is created. Atherosclerotic plaques are brittle and greasy; it's easy for part of the plaque to break off and block the artery further down the line as it branches.
The rough surface of the plaque also means it is easy for clots to form on the plaque surface blocking the artery. Arteriosclerosis plaque build-up can completely occlude an artery at its worst. Blocking and narrowing arteries leads to high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke.
Currently, in the UK there are 2.6 million people living with atherosclerosis, and around 40% of us Brits have high cholesterol. However, not all cholesterol is bad, it does serve a function in the body.
Cholesterol can be divided into two types depending on its structure. High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol is the type of cholesterol that is better for you. Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol is considered the “bad” cholesterol. Shifting the balance to more HDL cholesterol in ratio to LDL cholesterol can reduce your risk of atherosclerosis.
Eating less saturated fats such as those found in sausages, pies, dairy products, and foods that contain palm oil can help reduce your LDL cholesterol. Exercise, quitting smoking, and reducing your alcohol consumption will all help lower your risk of heart disease, stroke, and high cholesterol. Remember it’s not too late to make a change for the better.
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