A yellow/white fatty substance called cholesterol is responsible for a large proportion of the heart attacks, strokes circulatory problems and kidney disease in the Western world. Yet cholesterol is essential for the normal functioning of the human body.
It is responsible for:
- cementing cells together
- a major constituent of bile
- the basic building block for sex hormones.
Only in excess is it harmful. Hypercholesterolaemia is the medical term for the presence of excess cholesterol in the blood.
About seventy percent of the body’s cholesterol is actually manufactured in the liver, and only thirty percent is obtained through the diet.
If too much cholesterol is carried around in the blood stream, it may be deposited in gradually increasing amounts inside the arteries. This deposition of fat is known as arteriosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries.
There are two main subgroups of cholesterol – high density (which protect you from heart attacks and strokes) and low density (which are bad for you). The ratio between these two types of cholesterol will determine the treatment (if any) that is required.
If the patient is found to be in the high-risk group, there are several measures they can take to bring the levels back to normal. The first step is to stop smoking, limit alcohol intake, take more exercise and lose weight if obese. If these measures are insufficient, doctors will recommend a diet that is low in fat and cholesterol. On this, many people return to within normal cholesterol levels after a month or two.
Once the fatty deposits of cholesterol are deposited inside the arteries, they remain there permanently. The new drugs that lower cholesterol may remove these deposits over many years, and surgical techniques are available to clean out severely clogged arteries, but diet has little effect at this late stage. As in all diseases, prevention is much better than cure.