High cholesterol? Here’s how to lower it

    3 February 2020

    What is hyperlipidaemia?

    This is the medical term for high cholesterol. Cholesterol is a fatty substance that is made in the liver. It is essential for life – it is involved in a number of different functions in the body. It is moved around the blood by joining with proteins to make a lipoprotein. There are 2 types – High Density Lipoprotein (HDL). This is often called ‘good cholesterol’. The other type is Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL) and this can clog up the walls of the arteries which can cause serious damage. This is therefore called ‘bad cholesterol’. If cholesterol builds up in the blood vessels, this can cause them to become ‘furred up’ with a plaque – called atherosclerosis. This plaque can then break off or trigger a blood clot to form and cause a stroke or heart attack. The narrowing of the small arteries can also mean that not enough blood can get through and this can cause damage to organs and poor circulation.

    What causes high cholesterol?

    There are many factors involved in high cholesterol. An unhealthy diet plays a part – eating particular foods high in saturated fat increases cholesterol levels. Smoking also contains a chemical that interferers with good cholesterol meaning the body makes more bad cholesterol than it would do normally. There is also a genetic component with high cholesterol running in families. People’s cholesterol level is easily checked with a simple blood test. You are usually asked not to eat for 12 hours prior to the blood test to ensure that the stomach is empty as this could affect the reading.

    How is it treated?

    The main medical treatment is a statin. This is a daily medication that works on an enzyme in the liver to stop bad cholesterol from being made. Most people will take a statin for the rest of their lives as even though they may feel well, they still need to keep their cholesterol levels low and without the statin it will start to creep up again. Statins sometimes have side effects such as headaches, nausea and upset stomach but in general they are very well tolerate medication and very safe. For those who cannot take a statin, then another drug – ezetimibe – may be prescribed, This prevents cholesterol from being absorbed from food. Aspirin is also often prescribed to reduce the risk of clots forming.

    What can the patient do?

    The first step to reducing your cholesterol yourself is to ensure you are eating a healthy diet. There are various books available that claim to enable followers to reduce their cholesterol, but put simply it involves eating lots of vegetables and whole grain cereals and avoiding foods with saturated fat. People are advised to cut out or drastically reduce fatty cuts of meat, butter, ghee lard, cream, cheese, biscuits, cakes, chocolate and types of cooking oil like coconut or palm oil. Taking regular exercise and stopping smoking will also have a big impact. If despite these changes the cholesterol is still high, then the doctor is likely to prescribe a statin.