With GP waiting times increasing in many practices, and appointments for non-urgent care more difficult to access, home blood testing is becoming a common alternative for many people looking to take control of their health.
You’ve probably heard of cholesterol. Discussion about it usually goes hand in hand with concerns about your levels and the impact these have on your health.
But what actually is cholesterol? What role does it play in the body and what are some of the common misconceptions about cholesterol which might trip us up when trying to optimise our health? Let’s take a look.
Firstly, what is cholesterol and why is it important?
Cholesterol is a type of blood fat which is produced in the liver. It’s also found in some types of food, too.
Every cell in the body contains cholesterol, and it plays a vital role in keeping your body working, particularly your brain, nerves, and skin.
Cholesterol has three main jobs:
- Forming the outer layer of all your cells
- Making bile, which helps to digest the fats you eat
- Making vitamin D which keeps your bones, teeth, and muscles healthy
While we need cholesterol in our bodies, too much of it can cause problems, clogging up arteries and leading to health problems such as heart disease. We know that too much cholesterol isn’t good, but there’s often plenty about it we don’t understand or tend to assume.
Let’s take a look at some of the common myths about cholesterol
“It’s obvious when you have high cholesterol”
Generally, high cholesterol has no signs or symptoms. You may not know you have unhealthy cholesterol levels until it is too late, and you have a heart attack or stroke. That’s why it’s so important to get your cholesterol levels checked at least every 5 years.
“All cholesterol is bad for you”
Some forms of cholesterol are essential for good health. Your body needs it to perform important jobs, such as making hormones and building cells. Cholesterol travels through the blood on proteins called lipoproteins.
Two types of lipoproteins carry cholesterol throughout the body, and this is where the confusion tends to come in.
- LDL (low-density lipoprotein) (“bad” cholesterol) This makes up most of your body’s cholesterol. High levels raise your risk for heart disease and stroke.
- HDL (high-density lipoprotein) (“good” cholesterol) This carries cholesterol back to the liver, which then flushes it from the body. High levels can lower your risk for heart disease and stroke.
When your body has too much LDL cholesterol, it can build up in the walls of your blood vessels, restricting and eventually blocking blood flow to and from your heart and other organs.
“You can’t alter your cholesterol levels”
You might think that you can’t do much to change your cholesterol without medication, but that’s not the case. There is plenty you can do to take control of your cholesterol levels, including:
- Be active every day. It’s recommended that adults get 150 to 300 minutes of moderate physical activity each week.
- Make healthy food choices. Choose foods naturally high in fibre and unsaturated fats.
- Don’t smoke or use tobacco products. Smoking damages your blood vessels, speeds up the hardening of the arteries, and greatly increases your risk for heart disease.
- Know your family history. If your parents or other immediate family members have high cholesterol, you should be tested more often.
- Get tested at least every 5 years (unless told otherwise by your doctor).
“I don’t need statins or other medicines for my cholesterol.”
Although many people can achieve good cholesterol levels by making healthy food choices and getting enough physical activity, some people may also need medicines called statins to lower their cholesterol levels.
People who may need statins or other medicines to manage cholesterol levels include the following:
- People with cardiovascular disease. People with CVD may already have narrowed arteries because of too much plaque. Medicines that lower cholesterol may help reduce the risk for heart attack or stroke.
- People with familial hypercholesterolemia (FH) or people with very high levels of “bad” cholesterol. FH is a genetic condition that causes very high LDL cholesterol levels. If left untreated, cholesterol levels will continue to get worse. This greatly raises the risk for heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.
- People with diabetes. Type 2 diabetes lowers HDL cholesterol levels and raises LDL cholesterol levels, increasing your risk of heart disease and stroke.
Measuring your cholesterol at home
If you’re concerned about your cholesterol levels, it may be worth taking a closer look with a private blood test. When it comes to cholesterol, prevention is definitely better than the cure, and getting the knowledge of your current health status can help you make the right changes to get your health back on track if needed.
A simple home test
With GP waiting times increasing in many practices, and appointments for non-urgent care more difficult to access, private blood testing is becoming a common alternative for many people looking to take control of their health.
Our lipid profile test gives a total cholesterol level, as well as quantities of LDL and HDL cholesterol (The good and the bad). It will also give a triglyceride level and calculate the ratio between HDL and Total which is a good marker of cardiac risk.
This test is available as a finger prick or vacutainer sample collection option. You can also choose to visit a BMI Hospital or have a nurse home visit.