Understanding Cholesterol: Knowing Your Cholesterol Levels
Cholesterol is sometimes referred to as the “silent killer”. In fact, according to Heart UK, the cholesterol charity, approximately half of all heart attacks are caused by high cholesterol levels. It’s also one of the main causes of stroke.
Even more alarmingly, according to Public Health England, 60% of adults in the UK have high cholesterol, with many completely unaware that they have it.
In short, cholesterol-related heart problems are costing the NHS billions each year, and the situation is also costing many lives.
A New Anti-Cholesterol Drug
A new treatment will soon be made available to people in the UK. Inclisiran is a twice a year injection which will be an option for people who have already had a heart attack or stroke and for people who are not responding to other cholesterol lowering treatments such as statins.
NHS England say that the new drug could save about 30,000 lives within a decade.
Statins work by slowing down the production of cholesterol in the liver and are taken daily.
Inclisiran works in a different way. It uses gene-silencing to help the liver remove harmful cholesterol.
Meindert Boysen, NICE deputy chief executive said,
“Inclisiran represents a potential game-changer in preventing thousands of people from dying prematurely from hear attacks and strokes.
“We’re therefore pleased to be able to recommend it as a cost effective option on the NHS.”
Getting to Grips with Cholesterol
Astonishingly, despite its prevalence in our society, most people remain relatively unaware as to what cholesterol actually is and how it can impact health.
Cholesterol is a waxy substance that is made in your liver, but is also present in many foods. Contrary to popular opinion, cholesterol actually has a really important purpose in the body – promoting healthy cell functioning and also helping with the production of vitamin D, digestive bile and certain hormones.
It’s when there is too much cholesterol in the blood that the problems occur. However, it’s important to know that not all cholesterols are created equal.
HDL, or High Density Lipoprotein cholesterol, is actually good for you.
However, LDL, or Low Density Lipoprotein cholesterol, known as the ‘bad’ cholesterol, is the type that can clog up arteries thus reducing blood flow and increasing the risk of heart disease and other related conditions.
Cholesterol Levels: Understanding the Numbers
In the case of cholesterol, ignorance definitely isn’t bliss!
It’s important to not only get regularly tested, but to understand the numbers and what they indicate.
Cholesterol testing is a fairly straightforward process and involves either a blood sample taken from a vein, normally in the arm, or a pinprick test.
A pinprick test can be used to determine how much total cholesterol and HDL cholesterol you have in your blood. A venous sample can provide additional information on non-HDL cholesterol levels and triglyceride concentrations. Triglycerides are types of fats found in dairy produce, cooking oils and meats.
In order to be considered healthy, you should have:
- Total cholesterol levels of 5mmol/ L or less
- LDL (bad) cholesterol level of 3mmol/L or less
- Non-HDL cholesterol level of 4mmol/L or less
- Fasting triglyceride level of 2mmol/L or less
- Non-fasting triglyceride level of 4mmol/L or less
If you are on cholesterol reducing medication, have inherited high cholesterol, or are between the age of 40 and 75, you’re entitled to a free NHS cholesterol test. Simply talk to your GP about arranging one.
What Happens if Your Cholesterol Levels are High?
If your cholesterol levels are higher than they should be, your doctor will ascertain a target level of cholesterol, taking into account factors such as age and any existing health conditions.
You may be prescribed some medication to help lower your cholesterol, such as statins, aspirin or niacin, and it’s likely that you’ll be advised to make some changes to your diet.
There are a number of foods which can be included in your diet to boost levels of HDL cholesterol and lower LDL cholesterol levels:
- Oily fish such as tuna, salmon and sardines which contain Omega 3. Scientific studies have shown these to be useful in lowering cholesterol in the body.
- Oats or oatmeal contain a soluble fibre which can help bad cholesterol from being absorbed into your bloodstream.
- Barley and other wholegrains also contain soluble fibre to help lower LDL cholesterol levels
- Onions and garlic
- Olive Oil and other vegetable oils such as rapeseed, sunflower or canola oils.
- Walnuts, almonds and peanuts can lower LDL and protect the heart.
- Foods fortified with sterols and stanols such as yoghurts, spreads and drinks.
- Beans which are also rich in soluble fibre.
- Fruits rich in pectin such as apples, grapes, strawberries and citrus fruits.
If you’re concerned about your cholesterol, and want to find out more about your current levels, arrange an appointment with your GP.