Have you heard of good cholesterol and bad cholesterol? If you’re wondering what the difference is, we’ve got the explainer on all things cholesterol. What is cholesterol, and when does your cholesterol level become dangerously high?
We’ve all been warned about the dangers of high cholesterol, especially as we get older, but what exactly is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is actually a necessary substance your body needs to function properly, it’s only when you have too much of it that it becomes a problem.
Made in the liver, cholesterol is a fatty substance which can be found in every cell in your body.
It’s particularly important for your skin, brain and nerves.
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What is the difference between good and bad cholesterol?
LDL – which stands for low-density lipoprotein – is commonly referred to as bad cholesterol.
The reason LDL has earned such a bad reputation is these lipoproteins tend to contain high cholesterol.
So, if there is too much LDL in your arteries, it will clog them up, which is what we know as high cholesterol, and what cholesterol tests are looking for.
By contrast, HDL – standing for high-density lipoprotein – is known as good cholesterol.
HDL is considered good because it can help prevent disease. HDL also contains lots of protein and only a small amount of cholesterol.
The way HDL functions are different too: it carries HDL back to the liver, where the liver uses it to create bile or breaks it down into waste.
But, it’s not just cholesterol levels you’ve got to keep your eye on. There’s another type of fat in your bloodstream called triglycerides.
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When should I get a cholesterol check?
High cholesterol is very common in the UK, with Heart UK suggesting over half of British adults have raised levels of cholesterol.
Because high cholesterol can be caused by many different things, including diet, lifestyle and genetics, anyone can have high cholesterol, even if you are young, slim and healthy.
That said, certain habits do put you at increased risk of high cholesterol.
- Drinking excessively
- Not exercising regularly
- Eating a high-fat diet
If left untreated, high cholesterol can lead to serious events including heart attacks and strokes.
You can get a cholesterol check at your GP or pharmacist.
If you’re over the age of 40, your GP will invite you to have your cholesterol levels checked every five years.
You’ll also be invited for a check-up if there are any other factors putting you at risk, such as family history, being overweight or being a smoker.
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