Page 8 2012 Vol 1
Spotlight on… cholesterol
What is it?
Cholesterol is a type of fat essential for our bodies. We need cholesterol to manufacture certain hormones, build and repair cell membranes, and for metabolic processes including production of vitamin D and bile acids. However, too much cholesterol is harmful and can increase your heart disease risk.
Good vs Bad
We often hear that there are ‘good’ and ‘bad’ types of cholesterol. The ‘good’ cholesterol (high density lipoprotein (HDL)) helps transport excess cholesterol from cells. The ‘bad’ cholesterol (low density lipoprotein (LDL)) carries cholesterol into cells.
Dangers of high cholesterol
When we talk about ‘high cholesterol’ we mean the total cholesterol, but the ratio of HDL and LDL is also taken into account. People with high total blood cholesterol often feel well and have no symptoms; they only discover their high cholesterol level when having a blood test. Having high total cholesterol is dangerous; too much cholesterol circulating in the blood stream causes fatty deposits called plaques inside the arteries. Eventually, the arteries can become blocked, potentially leading to heart attack or stroke. Despite the fact that almost half of all heart attack deaths are women, we tend to underestimate our risk of a heart attack and may fail to seek medical help for early symptoms.
Women and cholesterol
Many women don’t believe high cholesterol is something they have to worry about however it affects just as many women as men. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, approximately 50% of men and women aged over 25 have high cholesterol. A study by the Baker IDI showed that four out of five women aged 45-64 had LDL levels higher than recommended levels.
Cholesterol and food
Cholesterol is present in animal products including eggs, meat, offal, seafood and full-fat dairy products. However, dietary cholesterol has only a small effect on LDL in the blood. Saturated fat has a much bigger impact, causing your liver to produce more cholesterol. Foods high in saturated fat include fatty or processed meats (e.g. salami, sausages), butter, fried food, most take-away foods, cakes, pastries and biscuits. Palm oil is a source of saturated fat used in food manufacturing. It is often labelled as ‘vegetable oil’ so people may not be aware of its presence. Always check food labels for the amount of saturated fat you’re eating.
Some foods contain protective factors that help to lower cholesterol. These include cereal fibre found in oats and brown rice or rice bran.
Health for Women
The Heart Foundation
Better Health Channel
Content Updated February 2012