All about Cholesterol - know your numbers and keep your heart healthy!

When I was a child I used to have nightmares about developing Diabetes. My granny had diabetes and was pretty much blind. It terrified me - the thought of blindness, needles, special diets....
It turned out my nightmares were prophetic. I did develop Diabetes Type 2 despite being neither obese or particularly inactive. Well- I'm not a keep fit fanatic but as you can imagine having seven children I don't get to sit down often.
When I was pregnant I did have to inject myself with insulin although despite my sobbing and snivelling the first time I had to jab my leg it's actually almost painless and not anywhere as bad as I expected!
Mostly however I rely on a (relatively!) healthy diet to keep the all crucial blood sugar figures as near "normal" as possible. OK so I fall off the wagon occasionally (it's hard to resist when your Brownie daughter wants you to sample the cakes she made for her Hostess badge) but on the whole I manage my condition quite well.
Having Diabetes is not just about keeping your sugars under control though- after diagnosis I discovered that the condition can leave you at higher risk of other problems including high (bad) cholesterol levels which can raise the risk of heart disease.
I have been lucky up 'til now and my cholesterol levels had been fine. But at my last appointment I was shocked to learn my levels were up. I was very upset and frightened and was determined to learn more about bad cholesterol and what I could do to lower my numbers! I thought it would be useful to share what I have learned - and tips on how you can lower your bad cholesterol.
So -What is cholesterol and how can it affect the heart?
A lot of people will have heard about cholesterol but what is it? is a white waxy substance which is found naturally in the body. It is key to keeping every cell working well. The body also uses cholesterol to make vitamin D, some hormones and bile for digestion.  
Too much cholesterol can however cause problems. Heart disease occurs when the coronary arteries become narrowed by a gradual build-up of fatty material within their walls. This fatty substance develops when the level of the ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol is too high. In time, the arteries may become so narrow that they cannot deliver enough oxygen rich blood to the heart muscle
What about the different types of cholesterol?
There are also different types of cholesterol that are spoken about.
  • Low-density lipoproteins (LDL) is known as the bad type of cholesterol. LDL carry cholesterol from your liver to the cells that need it. 
  • High-density lipoproteins (HDL) is known as the good type of cholesterol. HDL carry cholesterol away from the cells and back to the liver to be broken down.

Where does the body get cholesterol from?
Most cholesterol is made in the liver and a small amount comes from the diet. Eating too much saturated fat and trans fat (bad fat) - found in fatty meats, pastries and full fat dairy products can increase blood cholesterol.  Choosing leaner meats and fish, and low fat alternatives of these foods together with replacing saturated fat and trans fat with unsaturated fat (good fats)  - found in seeds and nuts and their oil and spreads can help keep cholesterol levels healthy.

What else causes high cholesterol?
Although eating too much saturated fat is a common cause of high cholesterol, some people have high cholesterol even though they eat healthily. Some have high cholesterol as a result of their genes, age, an underactive thyroid gland, diabetes, long term kidney problems, or drinking too much alcohol. Also about 1 in every 500 people in the UK has high cholesterol because they have an inherited condition called familial hypercholesterolaemia.

A GP, practice nurse or pharmacist can perform a simple blood cholesterol test. Get both your HDL and LDL levels . To help keep heart healthy, it’s important that bad (LDL) cholesterol remains low and good (HDL) cholesterol stays high. 
I know - it sounds complicated but your GP or nurse can explain your figures and whether they are good or bad.

I would highly recommend getting tested - particularly if there is any incidence of diabetes or heart disease in your family. Hopefully you will have cholesterol in the normal ranges, but if not, the earlier you do something about it the better.

I'm due a repeat blood test very soon so I'll let you know how I got on. I suspect a very Merry Christmas had a lot to do with my last test results. As it used to say on my school reports - I  decided I "could do better" so I plan to make use of what I discovered in my research and hopefully will get a gold star for effort next time!