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Cholesterol: What is it and what should your level be?

Cholesterol

This is a guest post by Monique Slater.

Basically, the lower the better!

Did you know 1 in 2 Australian Adults are affected by cholesterol!

What’s scary is that only 1 in 5 think they are affected.

But what exactly is cholesterol?

It can be so confusing especially when you hear about ‘good and bad cholesterol’ and then ‘total’ cholesterol – what is the difference?  Isn’t it all the same?

Cholesterol is a waxy substance which is found naturally in our blood – in fact it is made by our liver but we also receive a small amount from the food we eat. Without cholesterol our bodies could not perform a number of important body processes like making hormones and vitamin D. Having a low level of cholesterol our blood is natural and healthy but having a high cholesterol level can be dangerous. ‘Bad’ cholesterol gets stuck to the walls of blood vessels, making them harder and narrower so less blood can flow through and around the body. Eventually this spells big trouble for your heart, often leading to heart attack and stroke. ‘Good’ cholesterol on the other hand, takes cholesterol from body tissues back to the liver for re-processing and elimination.

To help keep your heart healthy it is important to keep your ‘bad’ cholesterol low (known as ‘LDL cholesterol’) and your ‘good’ cholesterol high (known as ‘HDL cholesterol’).

So what about total cholesterol?

Total cholesterol is a figure made up from the bad (LDL) and the good (HDL) cholesterol levels. The Heart Foundation recommends the cholesterol level for the general public is ideally should be below 5.5mmol/L or lower. For people at higher risk of heart problems, they suggest a cholesterol level of less than 4.0 mmo/l. Basically, the lower the better.

Cholesterol plaque

How do I lower my cholesterol?


Small changes to diet and lifestyle can make a big difference to your cholesterol level such as:

  • Avoiding ‘bad’ fats and/or reducing saturated fats, limiting other animal fats like cheese, cream, full cream milks and yoghurts and fatty meats. Choose lean meats and low fat dairy products instead. Also cutting down on biscuits, pastries and the like too.
  • Choosing ‘good’ fats. Replacing bad fats with polyunsaturated vegetable oils such as sunflower oil and polyunsaturated margarine spreads will have a positive effect on cholesterol levels.
  • Eating more vegetables – including 2 serves of fruit and 5 serves of vegetables everyday and include wholegrain foods in your daily diet.
  • Having a healthy lifestyle by aiming for a healthy body weight, quitting smoking, including physical exercise.
  • Using a plant sterol margarine spread will also help lower cholesterol absorption.

I would urge you however, if you have any concerns about your cholesterol levels or heart health, your first point of contact should always be your GP. Some people have cholesterol levels that require medication as well as diet and lifestyle changes and your doctor will need to advise you. Keeping a nice close eye on your cholesterol levels is highly recommended because they change over time. Something I didn’t realize until recently was that when women go through menopause and their estrogen levels drop, their cholesterol increases! (but this is another topic!)

I would love to hear your comments and experiences. It doesn’t matter how old you are, it’s never to early or late to love your heart!

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7 Responses to Cholesterol: What is it and what should your level be?
  1. zfnd
    February 4, 2009 | 9:38 pm

    Interesting article,

    Funny enough, the next article I read in my reader was:

    http://www.healthymuslim.com/articles/fxusv-the-b…

  2. TheHealthBlogger
    February 5, 2009 | 10:22 pm

    haha!

    What a coincidence!

    Interesting – thanks for that! :)

  3. Polaris
    February 11, 2009 | 9:57 am

    Dear Health Blogger,
    You are giving very good advice here to your readers. We must understand the importance of the GP’s role when we become concerned about our health.

    There is a natural compound in nature that has been studied in various human trials for its effect in reducing total cholesterol level, especially LDL – while maintaining good HDL level, it is the tocotrienol. In nature, vitamin E exists in 8 forms – 4 tocotrienols and 4 tocopherols but we often find on the shelves in drug stores single alpha-tocopherol products. Studies did not find tocopherol having any effect in reducing cholesterol at all but tocotrienol does.
    While it is recommended to get these compounds from natural dietary sources – such as vegetable oils, rice bran, it is not always possible to get sufficient or effective levels without the need to consume very large amount of that particular food source.
    I am using tocotrienol for general maintenance, and monitoring my cholesterol level at the same time.
    There are other health benefits from tocotrienol – protects the brain from stroke induced injuries, reverses arteriosclerosis.. etc. Probably you already knew.

  4. the health blogger
    February 12, 2009 | 4:28 pm

    Polaris,

    Thank you for your comment. Please feel free to comment anytime.

  5. Ashley
    April 23, 2009 | 4:37 pm

    Great post on Cholesterol! It can be such a confusing topic. Thanks for the clarification!

  6. Mary - Lower Cholesterol Diet
    December 28, 2009 | 3:21 am

    In response to Polaris – Vegetable oil is not great for the bod and extra virgin olive oil is the way to go =)

  7. angular cheilitis
    April 28, 2010 | 2:41 am

    I think itsn’t a confusing topic.. who say?

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