In this Health Hub article, we explore how to maintain a healthy cholesterol level and discusses supports available in Ireland.
Cholesterol is a fat-like substance that is found in all cells in the body. All the cholesterol your body needs is made in your liver, but you also get it from foods from animals, e.g. meat, poultry and (full-fat) dairy products. You need a certain amount of cholesterol to produce hormones, vitamin-D, and substances that help you digest foods.
There are two main types of cholesterol:
- HDL cholesterol (High-Density Lipoprotein) which is also known as ‘good cholesterol’. Good cholesterol mops/picks up cholesterol that is left behind in your arteries (blood vessels) and brings it back to your liver where it is broken down and eliminated from your body.
- LDL cholesterol (Low-Density Lipoprotein) which is also known as ‘bad cholesterol’. Bad cholesterol travels from your liver and sticks to the walls of your arteries to form plaque. This plaque can build up to cause a narrowing or blockage of the artery. If the blocked artery leads to the heart it can cause a heart attack. If the blocked artery leads to the brain it can cause a stroke.
There is a third type of fat in your blood called Triglycerides, which if too high, can also increase your risk of heart disease.
Facts & Figures
Measuring your cholesterol level is done by a simple blood test. Your cholesterol level is the amount of cholesterol in your blood measured in millimoles per litre or mmol/l. The units of measurement are not important, it’s the numbers we need to understand:
Advice From The Pharmacist
Factors that contribute to increased cholesterol levels:
- Consumption of saturated fats such as butter, margarine, other full-fat dairies, fatty meats, and products containing these
- Consumption of trans fats found in many processed foods such as biscuits and cakes
- Not being physically active
- Being overweight or obese
- Large weight circumference
- Excessive alcohol consumption
Significantly changing your diet to eliminate these foods, reducing alcohol consumption, and increasing the amount of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains will see a reduction in cholesterol levels in 3-4 weeks. Eating two portions of oily fish per week will also help as they contain healthy fats and help to lower triglycerides.
Here you can find a list of foods that help to lower cholesterol. It goes without saying that increasing physical activity, losing weight and stopping smoking will also help to lower cholesterol.
If you cannot reduce your cholesterol significantly through diet and lifestyle changes your doctor may prescribe a ‘statin’ for you. Statins are a group of drugs that block the enzyme which enables your liver to produce cholesterol. Statins are generally very safe and well tolerated. However, a small number of patients may experience side effects. If this is the case you must speak to your doctor.