What Actually Is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a chemical building block found naturally within the cells in the body. It is needed to make steroid hormones and vitamin D as well as bile acids which help the gut digest and absorb dietary fat.
Your blood carries cholesterol around your body on proteins known as high density lipoproteins (HDL) or ‘good cholesterol’, and low density lipoproteins (LDL) – ‘bad cholesterol’. Too much LDL cholesterol and too little HDL cholesterol in the blood are linked to a process which causes blood vessels to become narrowed or blocked.
Raised LDL levels are a significant risk factor for heart attacks (myocardial infarction – MI), chest pain (angina), narrowing of the blood vessels in the legs (peripheral artery disease) and stroke – as a group these are called cardio vascular disease (CVD).
Six out of ten adults in the UK have LDL cholesterol levels which are too high and CVD is a major public health problem. However, raised LDL cholesterol is only one of the risk factors for CVD.
Other factors such as smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes, being overweight, poor fitness or a strong family history of early heart disease all affect your risk. Your chances of having CVD are higher when you have more than one of these risk factors.