Your body needs some cholesterol to work properly, but too much cholesterol in the blood can create a fatty build up in your artery walls, narrowing arteries and restricting blood flow. This can cause a heart attack or stroke.
Cholesterol is a fat carried in the bloodstream which is made mostly by your liver as well as being in the foods we eat.
Where does cholesterol come from?
Your liver makes all the cholesterol you need, but extra cholesterol can build up in your body from the food you eat. Some foods (for example butter, pies, cake) contain lots of cholesterol. When your body digests these foods, the extra cholesterol enters your bloodstream. Having too much cholesterol in your bloodstream can allow some cholesterol to settle in the walls of your arteries and cause heart disease.
We don’t always know what causes high cholesterol. For some people, their liver makes too much cholesterol. This condition often runs in families, which means that a close blood relative (such as a parent) may have it as well. For those people, no matter how much they modify their diet, they may still have high cholesterol. Other factors that contribute to high cholesterol and heart disease are what you have been eating and drinking, how much you are moving each day, and being overweight.
Types of cholesterol
There is only one type of cholesterol, but it is carried around the body by different “carriers” (lipoproteins) that have different tasks. There are two types of carriers: LDL (low density lipoprotein) and HDL (high density lipoprotein).
- Known as “bad” cholesterol
- The role of LDL in the body is to transport cholesterol to all organs for use in building cells
- LDL is like a large “dump truck”, and dumps cholesterol in the artery walls.
- HDL cholesterol is like a “pickup” truck that picks up and transports cholesterol from the blood stream to the liver, which gets rid of it.
- The role of HDL in the body is to carry extra cholesterol away from the arteries to the liver
- Known as “good” cholesterol
Triglycerides are the most common form of fat in your body. The role of triglycerides is to store and transport fat in the blood. Extra energy from food and alcohol that your body does not need is changed to triglycerides. High triglycerides increase your risk of heart attack and stroke.
Total cholesterol is a rough measure of all the cholesterol and triglycerides in your blood.
Total cholesterol/HDL cholesterol ratio is the ratio of your total cholesterol to your HDL cholesterol. This ratio is used to measure your risk of heart attack and stroke.