Two out of three adults have higher than recommended cholesterol levels due to an increasingly nutrient poor modern day diet. High cholesterol increases the chance of developing cardiovascular disease (CVD), and although high cholesterol can be hereditary a large proportion of high cholesterol is down to bad diet. High cholesterol causes fatty deposits to build up inside the blood vessels eventually causing them to become too narrow and unable to deliver enough oxygen to the heart muscle.
The fatty deposits are known as plaques. If a fatty plaque breaks off it can cause a blood clot which blocks the blood flow to the heart resulting in a heart attack or stroke.
Lipoprotein: HDL and LDL
Cholesterol is carried through the body attached to a protein in the blood. This fat-protein combination is called a lipoprotein. The fat to protein ratio determines the type of lipoprotein.
When we refer to cholesterol we refer to two main types of lipoprotein that carry cholesterol around the body, HDL (high-density lipoprotein) and LDL (low-density lipoprotein).
HDL is mostly protein and doesn’t contain a high volume of fat. Women tend to have higher HDL levels than men, although HDL can be increased through exercise. HDL transports excess cholesterol from the tissues to the liver for disposal from the body. High levels of HDL signal a decreased risk of heart disease and for this reason HDL is considered “good cholesterol”.
LDL is responsible for transporting approximately 70% of cholesterol and consists mainly of fat containing only a small volume of protein. LDLs are in charge of taking cholesterol from the liver to the cells and as such are associated with an increased rick of cardiovascular disease. LDL deposits cholesterol in your blood vessels and is therefore referred to as “bad cholesterol”
Diet and Cholesterol
A diet high in saturated fat and trans-fat will cause cholesterol to build up in the body. Bad cholesterol is cause mostly by animal food products such as Whole-milk dairy products, (butter, ice cream, cream cheese), specific shellfish including shrimp, organ meats such as kidney and liver and animal skin such as chicken skin.
Foods capable of lowering LDL are as follows: oatmeal, fish containing high levels of omega 3 (mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines, tuna, salmon and halibut), walnuts and almonds, olive oil and foods that contain plant sterols or stanols. LDL cholesterol can be reduced by up to 10 percent by eating margarines, orange juice and yogurt drinks with added plant sterols.
Diagnosing Bad Cholesterol
It is a myth that high LDL cholesterol is only present in overweight people, high LDL levels can be present in anyone of any weight and often go undetected. Some people don’t realize they have high LDL levels until it is too late and they have developed heart disease. One common sign of high cholesterol is the formation of yellow patches around the eyes and elsewhere on the skin, these are cholesterol deposits medically e known as xanthomas. To determine whether you have high (bad) cholesterol you can ask your GP for a cholesterol test, this is particularly advisable for those predisposed to hereditary high cholesterol or with existing cardiovascular problems.