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What is Cholesterol? What Causes High Cholesterol? Risk Factors: High blood pressure, Overweight, High blood cholesterol no physical activity, Smoking, Excessive alcohol, intake Diabetes

Sep 17, 2013, 12:02 PM | Article By: Isatou Senghore

The word “cholesterol” comes from the Greek word chole, meaning “bile”. Cholesterol is a lipid (fat) which is produced by the liver. Cholesterol is vital for normal body function. Every cell in our body has cholesterol in its outer layer.

The reason for this is because your body uses this cholesterol to hold cells together and also make the hormones, vitamin D along with other substances to aid you in the digestion of foods. Be warned however as if you get too much of cholesterol in your blood it can cause problems such as high cholesterol and heart attack.

Dr Azadeh, our health adviser, a senior lecturer at the University of The Gambia and senior consultant physician is this week focusing on one of the highest causes of death, high cholesterol in blood for millions of people worldwide and Gambia is not an exception.

Where do we get our cholesterol from you may ask?

Cholesterol can be both good and bad, so it is important to learn what it actually is, how it affects your health and how to manage your blood-cholesterol levels. Understanding the facts about cholesterol will help you take better care of your heart so you can live a healthier life, reducing your risk for heart attack and stroke.

Well it comes from two different places, one is from the foods you eat and the other is what your body actually makes in the liver. The foods that we eat that contain it are all animal based products as cholesterol is only made by animals. So for example any meat, fish, butter, cheese etc.

It is worth noting that all other foods which are not animal based or derived from animals such as fruit, vegetables, grains etc. are all completely cholesterol free.

The protein responsible for this complex is known as a lipoprotein and there are two types of these, one being good and the other being potentially bad.

This lipoprotein can be bad. Known as low-density lipoprotein, should you have a lot of these LDL’s left over after the process of transportation of the complex from the liver to necessary tissues then it can be bad for you. The reason for this is because these extra LDL’s that have been left over will let go of the extra cholesterol when travelling through your blood which will cause a build up causing hardening of the blood vessels (atherosclerosis). Now this is the good lipoprotein and is known as High Density Lipoprotein.

Why are they so good? Well they will pick up the extra cholesterol from the LDL’s and will bring it to your liver where it gets repackaged for later use or simply expelled from your body.

So it’s good to have high levels of HDL within your system along with low levels of LDL.

If you wanted to have your cholesterol tested then the only way to do so is to have a blood test. Recent guidelines state that you should have a test every five years with a person with heart disease would be more at risk and should the test should be more frequent.

What causes high cholesterol?

Lifestyle causes

Nutrition - although some foods contain cholesterol, such as eggs, kidneys, eggs and some seafood’s, dietary cholesterol does not have much of an impact in human blood cholesterol levels. However, saturated fats do! Foods high in saturated fats include red meat, some pies, sausages, hard cheese, lard, pastry, cakes, most biscuits, and cream (there are many more).

Sedentary lifestyle - people who do not exercise and spend most of their time sitting/lying down have significantly higher levels of LDL (bad cholesterol) and lower levels of HDL (good cholesterol).

Bodyweight - people who are overweight/obese are much more likely to have higher LDL levels and lower HDL levels, compared to people who are of normal weight.

Smoking - this can have quite a considerable effect on LDL levels.

Alcohol - People, who consume too much alcohol regularly, generally have much higher levels of LDL and much lower levels of HDL, compared to people who abstain or those who drink in moderation.

Treatable medical conditions

These medical conditions are known to cause LDL levels to rise. They are all conditions which can be controlled medically (with the help of your doctor, they do not need to be contributory factors):


·High blood pressure (hypertension)

·High levels of triglycerides

·Kidney diseases

·Liver diseases

·Under-active thyroid gland

Risk factors which cannot be treated

These are known as fixed risk factors:

Your genes 1 - people with close family members who have had either a coronary heart disease or a stroke, have a greater risk of high blood cholesterol levels. The link has been identified if your father/brother was under 55, and/or your mother/sister was under 65 when they had coronary heart disease or a stroke.

Your genes 2 - if you have/had a brother, sister, or parent with hypercholesterolemia (high cholesterol) or hyperlipidemia (high blood lipids), your chances of having high cholesterol levels are greater.

Your sex - men have a greater chance of having high blood cholesterol levels than women.

Your age - as you get older, your chances of developing atherosclerosis increase.

Early menopause - women whose menopause occurs early are more susceptible to higher cholesterol levels, compared to other women.

How is high cholesterol diagnosed?

Cholesterol levels may be assured by means of a simple blood test. It is important not to eat anything for at least 12 hours before the blood sample is taken. The blood sample can be obtained with a syringe, or just by pricking the patient’s finger. People who have risk factors should consider having their cholesterol levels checked

What are the treatments for high cholesterol?


Most people, especially those whose only risk factor has been lifestyle, can generally get their cholesterol and triglyceride levels back to normal by:

·Doing plenty of exercise (check with your doctor)

·Eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, oats, good quality fats

·Avoiding foods with saturated fats

·Getting plenty of sleep (8 hours each night)

·Bringing your bodyweight back to normal

·Avoiding alcohol

·Stopping smoking

Many experts say that people who are at high risk of developing cardiovascular disease will not lower their risk just by altering their diet. Nevertheless, a healthy diet will have numerous health benefits.

What are the functions of cholesterol?

· It builds and maintains cell membranes (outer layer), it prevents crystallization of hydrocarbons in the membrane

· It is essential for determining which molecules can pass into the cell and which cannot (cell membrane permeability)

· It is involved in the production of sex hormones (androgens and estrogens)

· It is essential for the production of hormones released by the kindly glands

· It is important for the metabolism of fat soluble vitamins, including vitamins A, D, E, and K

What are normal cholesterol levels?

The amount of cholesterol in human blood can vary from 3.6 mmol/litter to 7.8 mmol/litter. The National Health Service (NHS), UK, says that any reading over 6 mmol/liter is high, and will significantly raise the risk of arterial disease. The UK Department of Health recommends a target cholesterol level of under 5 mmo/liter. Unfortunately, two-thirds of all UK adults have a total cholesterol level of at least five (average men 5.5, average women 5.6).

Symptoms of high cholesterol

Symptoms of high cholesterol do not exist alone in a way a patient or doctor can identify by touch or sight. Symptoms of high cholesterol are revealed if you have the symptoms of atherosclerosis, a common consequence of having high cholesterol levels. These can include:

· Narrowed coronary (heart vessels ) arteries in the heart (angina)

·Leg pain when exercising - this is because the arteries that supply the legs have narrowed

Blood clots and ruptured blood vessels - these can cause a stroke.

Ruptured plaques - this can lead to coronary thrombosis (a clot forming in one of the arteries that delivers blood to the heart). If this causes significant damage to heart muscle it could cause heart failure.

· Xanthomas - thick yellow patches on the skin, especially around the eyes. They are, in fact, deposits of cholesterol. This is commonly seen among people who have inherited high cholesterol susceptibility (familial or inherited hypercholesterolemia).

For further information, visit any of the Government’s hospitals and health centres throughout the country, number of NGO and private’s clinics, call Dr Azadeh’s live health show on AFRI-RADIO every Wed. from 9-9:30. You can also send text messages to Dr Azadeh on 7774469 and email to azadehhassan@yahoo.co.uk