Most of us probably associate negative connotations with the word cholesterol, there’s on–going publicity around the importance keeping your cholesterol levels checked and the implications of ‘high cholesterol’ on our heart health. So, what exactly is cholesterol and why is it so bad for our health?
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a waxy substance found in your blood and in your cells. Although some foods contain cholesterol, our liver makes most of the cholesterol in our body. In fact, your body needs some cholesterol to make hormones, vitamin D, and digestive fluids. Cholesterol also helps your organs function properly but there are ‘good’ and bad’ types of cholesterol and when levels of the bad cholesterol are too high, it can lead to serious health problems.
Good v Bad Cholesterol
Cholesterol is carried in your blood by proteins. When the two substances combine, they’re called lipoproteins. There are two types of lipoproteins LDL (low–density lipoprotein) and HDL (high–density lipoprotein).
LDL carries cholesterol to the cells that need it, but if there’s too much cholesterol for the cells to use, it can build up in the artery walls, leading to disease of the arteries; for this reason, LDL is known as “bad cholesterol”. The amount of cholesterol in the blood – both HDL and LDL – can be measured with a blood test.
What causes high levels of bad cholesterol?
All of the usual suspects increase your chances of having heart problems or a stroke if you have high cholesterol; smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, an unhealthy diet, lack of exercise, diabetes and high blood pressure. With levels of mortality from cardio–vascular diseases higher than average in the Irish community, it’s particularly important for us to monitor our cholesterol levels and to aim for a heart–healthy lifestyle.
Help is at hand
If you’ve been thinking about making some heart–healthy improvements to your lifestyle, October is certainly a great month to make a start! October is home to ‘Stoptober’ (an initiative to help people stop smoking) and ‘Soberoctober’, an initiative that encourages people to stop drinking for the month. To help get you started, download our free Green Hearts health guide from the website and visit the links to Stoptober and Soberoctober below.
Find out more about Stoptober and Soberoctober here: