What is cholesterol?
Almost a quarter of all Dutch people between the ages of 30 and 70 have high cholesterol. A cholesterol level that is too high poses an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease. With Homed-IQ’s Cholesterol & Lipids Test, you can test the total cholesterol, HDL (good cholesterol), LDL (bad cholesterol) and triglyceride levels in your blood.
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a natural substance that works as a building material for cells, hormones, and the production of bile. It is present in your body in the form of small spherical particles called lipoproteins. These spheres are surrounded by protein, which makes it possible to transport cholesterol through the body via the bloodstream. Your body makes cholesterol in the liver and a small amount comes in through food.
What is LDL?
LDL is also known as “bad cholesterol”. It’s a protein in your blood that transports cholesterol from the liver to the rest of your body. When LDL levels are too high, cholesterol can build up in your arteries, narrowing the passage through which blood can flow. Blood then cannot flow as easily through the blood vessels, which leads to arteriosclerosis.
What is HDL?
HDL is known as “good cholesterol” and protects against cardiovascular disease. These small particles ensure that a surplus of cholesterol in the body goes to the liver. The cholesterol is then broken down before leaving the body as feces or bile.
How high can your cholesterol be?
Your cholesterol level is considered normal if your total cholesterol is lower than 5.0 mmol/l.
- Normal: < 5.0 mmol/l
- Slightly elevated: 5.0 to 6.4 mmol/l
- Increased: 6.5 to 7.9 mmol/l
- Highly elevated: > 8 mmol/l
In addition to total cholesterol, it is also important to know the ratio between LDL and HDL. If this ratio is out of balance, there is also an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
In terms of LDL, there are specific target values that depend on your age and risk of cardiovascular disease (Heart Foundation). If a cholesterol test shows that your LDL cholesterol level is less than 3.0 mmol/l, then that is usually fine for most people. In people who have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease however, a lower optimal value applies, namely less than 2.6 mmol/l. For people under the age of 70 who have cardiovascular disease, an even lower target value of less than 1.8 mmol/l applies.
There is no target value for HDL cholesterol. However, a higher value may limit the risk of cardiovascular disease. HDL should be higher than 1.0 mmol/l in men and higher than 1.2 mmol/l in women.
What are the symptoms of high cholesterol?
Too high a cholesterol level does not cause any symptoms that are immediately noticeable and can therefore not be regarded as a specific disease. However, elevated cholesterol may lead to cardiovascular disease over time.
Possible consequences of high cholesterol are:
- Heart attack
- Damage to the kidneys
- Angina (chest pain)
What are the causes of high cholesterol?
There are various causes that may lead to high total cholesterol levels. These can be hereditary factors, other diseases, or a certain lifestyle (UMC Utrecht, 2022). The main causes of high cholesterol are:
- Underactive thyroid
- Hereditary factors
- Being overweight
- Not getting enough exercise
- Eating a lot of food that is high in fat
Which foods are bad for your cholesterol?
There are all kinds of nutrients that have a negative influence on cholesterol. These are mainly products that contain of a lot of saturated fat (Nutrition Center). These are, for example, whole milk and other animal products, such as full-fat cheese. Pastries, biscuits, unfiltered coffee, and fried snacks also have a nutritional content that can increase LDL levels.
Saturated fat is a stimulator for the liver to make cholesterol, but too much of it causes LDL cholesterol to elevate. Incidentally, cholesterol also occurs naturally in several food products, such as egg yolks, liver, shrimp, kidneys and eel. That is why the advice is to eat these cholesterol-rich products in moderation:
- High-fat animal products (whole milk, whole cheese)
- Egg yolks
- Liver and kidneys
- Eel and shrimp
What should you eat to lower your cholesterol?
If you want to lower your cholesterol level, a healthy diet with unsaturated fats is important. You can find these fats in:
- Fatty fish
- Nuts and peanuts
- Liquid Baking Products
- Low-fat margarine
- Vegetable oil
Products with phytosterols (plant sterols) also have a cholesterol-lowering effect. Phytosterols are often added to margarine and yogurt products. They inhibit cholesterol absorption in the intestines. In addition, these substances increase the cholesterol that leaves the body through the stool.
What are the risks of high cholesterol?
The biggest risk of high cholesterol is the increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease. For example, too elevated cholesterol levels can lead to arterial constriction or arteriosclerosis. This is because cholesterol particles can stick to damaged areas in the arteries. This creates a thickening in the arterial walls, also called a plaque. As a result, the blood flows less effectively, so that your organs receive less oxygen. A plaque can also rupture, causing a blood clot. Such a blood clot can block a blood vessel. The tissue behind it then dies because it no longer receives oxygen, causing a stroke (Heart Foundation).
How do you prevent high cholesterol?
The best way to prevent high cholesterol is to adopt a healthy lifestyle. This means eating healthy, exercising regularly, and watching your weight. Avoiding stress and not smoking also contribute to the prevention of high cholesterol.
How do you test for high cholesterol?
Cholesterol levels can be measured in the blood. Homed-IQ has a simple home test for this: the Cholesterol & Lipids Test. After performing the test, a certified laboratory analyzes the blood sample to determine the values. Not only your total cholesterol level, but also LDL, HDL, the HDL percentage of total cholesterol and triglycerides are measured.
Can you get high cholesterol from stress?
Yes, stress can affect your cholesterol levels. This is due to the increased cortisol levels that result during stress. Cortisol has a direct effect on your body’s ability to process of fats and sugars. The result is a rapid rise in cholesterol levels. Therefore, stress management should also be a part of a healthy lifestyle.
What should you do to lower your cholesterol?
Lifestyle changes are the first step in lowering your cholesterol. Possible modifications include:
- Replace full-fat dairy with low-fat varieties
- Eat legumes and oily fish every week
- Eat handful of unsalted nuts daily
- Drink filtered coffee instead of instant coffee
- Limit red meat
- Consume enough fiber
- Get enough exercise every day
- Quit smoking
- Moderate alcohol consumption
Hartstichting. (2022). Cholesterol. https://www.hartstichting.nl/oorzaken/cholesterol
Hoog cholesterol – UMC Utrecht. (n.d.). https://www.umcutrecht.nl/nl/ziekte/hoog-cholesterol
Voedingscentrum. (n.d.). Cholesterol. https://www.voedingscentrum.nl/encyclopedie/cholesterol.aspx