CardioKit asks … a Cardiac Physiologist

What is cholesterol? Christopher J. B. Wild explains.

Cholesterol, despite having a lot of bad press, is in fact necessary for the normal functioning of the body. It is a fat or ‘lipid’ and instrumental for allowing cells to operate properly.

The lipids are carried through the bloodstream and there are two important types; LDL (low density lipoproteins) and HDL (high density lipoproteins). HDL is considered ‘good’ cholesterol as it helps to remove less desirable forms of fat from the blood. High levels of HDL decrease the risk of heart disease and low levels increase it.

LDL represents the ‘bad’ cholesterol. Too much LDL can collect in the arteries and can cause them to become narrowed or blocked and this restricts the blood flow. This reduced flow can cause problems throughout your body like peripheral arterial disease, where the loss of blood flow can cause pain whilst walking. When it comes to your heart, the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) greatly increases.

Your heart needs oxygen just like the rest of your body, and it is supplied with oxygen-rich blood via the coronary arteries which extend across its entire surface. Your heart is responsible for constantly pumping blood around your body and so must work hard constantly, requiring an uninterrupted supply of oxygen across the muscle.

When one of these arteries is blocked or narrowed, the flow of oxygen-rich blood is lessened in the area the artery supplies. It is this lack of oxygen that causes angina’s trademark chest pain, and in the case of heart attack, it is the death of the heart muscle being deprived of oxygen.

CHD accounts for one of the highest number of deaths in the UK; around 1 in 6 men, and 1 in 10 women die each year from the disease. It was estimated to cost the NHS £16billion in 2006, and British Heart Foundation statistics show that this incidence hadn’t lowered significantly in 2015.

The good news is that getting a test to check your cholesterol levels is as simple as a blood test, and managing your cholesterol is all about lifestyle. Smoking, alcohol consumption, exercise, weight and diet all contribute to your cholesterol levels, so with sensible changes you can lower your risk of heart attack and stroke.

Thank you, Chris. Check out his website and read what he says about Cardiologist’s Kitchen here

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