Most of us spend our days going about our business – working, spending time with family and friends, and doing things we enjoy. It is not until illness strikes that we stop to consider what is happening within our bodies. Many unseen factors are at play inside of us that dictate our general health status. Unfortunately, being constantly aware of each one of these factors is impossible, but keeping tabs on the most important things such as blood pressure, blood sugar levels, and cholesterol is vital to one’s overall health. The best way to manage this is through regular screening. Here we take a closer look at cholesterol and why testing yours often is not only a step towards better health, but potentially life-saving too.
What it is, and Why Your Body Needs it
When most people hear the term, they often associate it with thoughts of unhealthy eating habits and heart disease. Cholesterol, however, is far more complex than this. In fact, every cell within your body is home to this waxy substance. This is normal, as your body requires cholesterol for processes such as food digestion and manufacturing certain hormones and vitamin D.
While your body can make the cholesterol it requires, external sources of the substance can also be found in certain foods. As with all things, however, balance is key. Too much cholesterol can merge with other substances in the bloodstream, forming what we know as plaque. Plaque is made up of deposits that stick to artery walls and can lead to a build-up, called atherosclerosis. Subsequently, arteries can become too narrow for blood flow or even blocked, leading to life-threatening conditions such as coronary artery disease.
It’s not all bad, however, the combination of fat and proteins (also called lipoproteins) has various purposes in different forms. LDL (low-density lipoprotein) and VLDL (very low-density lipoprotein) are usually considered “bad” forms of cholesterol, as both contribute to plaque build-up within arteries. HDL (high-density lipoprotein) is generally considered good for us, as it can carry the wax-like substance to the liver, where it is processed and removed from the body. Screening for these various kinds of lipoproteins, can thus lead one to a better understanding of their overall health.
Genetics Versus Lifestyle
Genetics play a significant role in one’s risk for increased LDL or lowered HDL, but the most common cause is unhealthy lifestyle habits. Eating “bad” saturated and trans fats have been known to raise low-density lipoprotein in the body. These fats are found in certain meats, dairy, baked, deep-fried and processed foods. A sedentary lifestyle with little to no exercise also lowers one’s HDL levels. Lastly, smoking is known to lower HDL while raising LDL levels, and thus dramatically increases one’s risk for disease. Individuals who eat a lot of processed food, exercise too little, and smoke should prioritise regular cholesterol screening and make the necessary changes to improve their health.
Other factors that make one more susceptible to high cholesterol include ageing, weight gain and obesity, or if hypercholesterolemia runs in the family.
When and Why to Get Tested
Because hypercholesterolemia doesn’t manifest through physical symptoms, the only way to know about your risk is through the occasional screening. It is recommended that after the age of 18, adults have their lipoprotein levels checked at least every five years.
During the screening, blood is drawn and your lipoprotein levels are then assessed. Thereafter, you will be advised on the best course of action forward, such as lifestyle changes and medication.
At The Local Choice, our clinic services include cholesterol screening (total and HDL) and we do so at affordable rates for the public. Get in touch for more information about our testing and screening services.