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Heart Disease » High Cholesterol


Introduction 

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Cholesterol is a waxy, fatty substance which is produced naturally by the liver but is also obtained from the diet. Dietary cholesterol is found in animal products such as meat and dairy, and is also found in some plant derived oils including; coconut, palm and cocoa oil. Cholesterol is essential for animal cellular function and plays a number of important roles in the human body, including, the production of hormones, vitamin D, bile acids and is an integral part of cell membranes. Whilst cholesterol is important, the body requires only a small amount and excess cholesterol can cause a number of health complications.

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To enable cholesterol to travel through the bloodstream it is transported in small packages made up of fat and protein. These packages are called lipoproteins and are classified into two main groups, low-density lipoproteins (LDLs) and high-density lipoproteins (HDLs).?

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LDL’s are classified as bad cholesterol, as these lipoproteins are responsible for depositing excess cholesterol on artery walls. This excess cholesterol combines with calcium to form a thick hard plaque, causing the artery walls to harden and become narrow. This process is called atherosclerosis and is responsible for restricting blood flow through affected arteries decreasing the amount of oxygen that reaches the heart causing chest pain (angina), and increasing the risk of developing heart disease. In some instances a piece of plaque may break of into the bloodstream where it can get lodged in a smaller artery or a blood vessel, stopping blod flow altogether. If this happens in the heart it causes a heart attack, whilst if it happens in the brain it causes a stroke.

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HDL’s are regarded as good cholesterol as they extract cholesterol from artery walls and carry it back to the liver, which is responsible for removing excess cholesterol from the body. Whilst it is important to maintain a low level of total cholesterol (both HDLs and LDLs) in the body, higher levels of HDLs and lower levels of LDLs are desirable.

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Both HDL and LDL levels are influenced by various lifestyle factors with a big factor being diet and exercise. Genetic factors can also influence cholesterol levels and those with a family history of heart disease are most likely to be at a greater risk of having high cholesterol. Individuals can manage their cholesterol levels through diet exercise and medications and by doing so reduce their risk of developing associated health disorders.

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Ensuring an appropriate ratio of HDLs and LDLs whilst maintaining a low, overall level of? cholesterol (total cholesterol), can limit the formation of plaques and also reduce existing plaques. This will also reduce the risk of plaque material breaking off and stopping blood flow through small arteries and blood vessels, ultimately reducing an individuals risk of developing heart disease or suffering from a heart attack or stroke. Regular health checks can allow individuals to monitor their cholesterol levels and manage their risk of high cholesterol.



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