Cholesterol is a type of fat, which can be found in the blood stream. A certain amount of it is required for body function. However, if there is too much circulating in the blood, is can invade the lining of the arteries, which can lead to narrowing. If this happens in the heart, it can lead to a heart attack. If it happens in the brain, it can lead to a stroke.
A lot of your cholesterol is produced by the liver. Some people are genetically pre-disposed to produce more than others. However, extra amounts of cholesterol are obtained by eating too much saturated fats, commonly eaten as animal fats.
There are several types of cholesterol. Two main types are High density Lipoprotein (HDL) and Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL). HDL’s are commonly called "good" cholesterol, because they are less likely to invade the artery walls. LDL’s are commonly called "bad" cholesterol, because they are more likely to invade the artery walls.
The higher your cholesterol level, the greater the risk of heart disease. If there are other factors present, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or smoking, the risk is much higher. For people with existing heart disease or diabetes, control of cholesterol, as well as other factors, is very important.
Steps to reduce cholesterol:
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Eat oily fish twice per week
- Eat more fruit, vegetables, and wholegrain cereals, breads, rice, pasta, potatoes
- Choose lean meats / less animal fat
- Choose low fat milk, low fat dairy spreads, and eat less of these
- Eat less of confectionery foods
- Consider grilling, oven baking instead of frying
- Live an active lifestyle
High Blood Pressure - Hypertension
Everyone has blood pressure. It is a sign of the blood circulating in the arteries. The problem arises when the pressure is consistently too high.
Blood pressure is measured using two figures. The lower figure (diastolic blood pressure) refers to the baseline pressure in the arteries. The higher (systolic) blood pressure refers to the pressure when the heart contracts, forcing more blood out into the arteries around the body, pushing the pressure up.
- ‘Normal’ blood pressure is 120/80
- ‘High’ blood pressure is 140/90
Often there is no known cause for hypertension. 90% of people have so called "essential hypertension". A minority of people has a disease causing their hypertension Hypertension is important because it at least doubles your risk of stroke. It can also cause heart failure, kidney damage, and eye damage. Much research has shown that control of hypertension reduces this risk.
This is why doctors recommend treatment of hypertension. Control of blood pressure is all the more important if you have diabetes of existing heart disease. Some lifestyle changes can lower blood pressure. These may help someone’s blood pressure stay normal, or even control mild cases without use of medication. They are important changes for anyone who has hypertension.
These lifestyle changes that can reduce blood pressure are:
- Keeping a healthy weight
- Drink less alcohol
- Be more active / do more exercise
- Do not add salt to your diet
- Also quit smoking if you smoke
Smoking poses a very significant preventive threat to a person's health Quitting will reduce this risk. Low tar cigarettes or cigars do not reduce your health risks.
Smoking increases blood pressure, can double the risk of having a heart attack, affects artery walls and increases "bad cholesterol" (LDL cholesterol) as well as affecting the lungs.
It is linked with several serious health problems including:
- Heart Disease
- Lung Cancer
- Chronic Bronchitis and Emphysema
- Disease of the arteries of the legs (peripheral vascular disease)
- Bladder cancer
- Cancer of the oesophagus (gullet)
- Reduced birth weight for babies when the mother smokes
There are several treatment options to help you:
- Nicotine Patches
- Nicotine Gum
- Nicotine Inhaler
- Prescription medication such as champix
Many of the nicotine replacement products are available over the counter at your pharmacist.
Alcohol can have some beneficial effects from a health point of view, - small amounts can help prevent heart disease (one to two units per day).
Alcohol is conveniently quantified in units, which is the same as 10 grams of alcohol.
One unit of alcohol is equivalent to:
- 1 standard (not overfilled) glass of wine
- 1 standard measure ("shot") of spirits
- ½ a pint of beer
The more alcohol consumed, the higher the risk of physical, mental, and social problems associated with it. It is generally accepted that the maximum safe weekly alcohol intake is:
- For a healthy adult male: 21 units per week
- For a healthy adult female: 14 units per week
This intake should be evenly distributed over the course of a week, and the week should include alcohol free days. Binge drinking is common and is associated with higher risk of accident, violence, and dangerous toxic effects.
Prolonged over consumption of alcohol can have cause many problems, such as:
- Liver cirrhosis / failure
- High Blood pressure
- Heart rhythm abnormalities / weakening
- Permanent memory problems
- Reduced testosterone production
- Depression / mood problems
- Social problems, - work, family, relationship difficulties
Alcohol contains high calorie levels, irrespective of type of drink, which can contribute to weight problems. If you are drinking more than the maximum levels outlined above, cutting down will protect or help restore your health.
Try the following questionnaire:
- Do you ever feel you should cut down your alcohol consumption?
- Do you get annoyed when other people suggest you should cut down?
- Do you ever need a drink in the morning to steady things, or make things feel better?
If you answered yes to any of the above, then you probably have a problem with alcohol, please see your GP.
Most people are not active enough. Being inactive often leads to obesity and it doubles the risk of heart disease.
Being active will:
- Lower your cholesterol level, blood pressure, and blood sugar level
- Maintain your heart, joints, and muscles
- Achieve and maintain a healthy weight
- Increase your energy level
- Sleep better, which can improve your mental alertness
- Reduce stress
- Improve your mood and your general feeling of wellbeing
- Reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke and osteoporosis.