You can’t tell the future. But your blood can.
In fact, the levels of certain nutrients, hormones, and substances in your blood can give you a glimpse into what your health might be like in a few years.
Cholesterol is one of these substances. It’s one of the most crucial indicators of your current and future health because it can tell you about your risk of developing diseases in the future, such as stroke and heart disease.
Both of these diseases are serious and even fatal if left unaddressed. Fortunately, spotting high cholesterol early can make a huge difference, as it’s possible to control cholesterol levels with a carefully managed diet, medication, or a combination of the two.
But here’s the catch. High cholesterol doesn’t usually cause any symptoms. The only way to measure it is with a blood test. So, it’s crucial that you book a blood test to check your cholesterol levels every so often to keep track of them.
According to the World Health Organisation, stroke and heart disease were the two most common causes of death in 2019. Since high cholesterol is virtually symptomless, people often don’t realise that they have it until it’s too late. However, if it’s caught early, there’s much more you can do to safeguard your health and minimise the chance of severe health issues in the future.
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a fatty substance (known as a lipid) found in the blood. While most of the cholesterol found in our bodies is made by the liver, some of it also comes from our diet.
There are two main types of cholesterol:
- “Bad cholesterol” (low-density lipoproteins): Low-density lipoproteins (LDLs) are commonly known as “bad cholesterol” because they can stick to the walls of your arteries and clog them. This restricts the flow of blood through them and can cause cardiovascular diseases such as stroke and heart disease.
- “Good cholesterol” (high-density lipoproteins): this type of cholesterol is usually referred to as “good cholesterol” because it helps to keep arteries clear by reducing the amount of LDLs in the blood, lowering your risk of cardiovascular disease.
What does cholesterol do?
Despite its infamous reputation, cholesterol is very beneficial for the body. It’s used to make vitamin D and other steroid hormones that help to keep bones, muscles, and teeth healthy. It also forms part of the outer layer of every cell in the body and is used to make bile, which helps to digest the fats you eat.
However, if there’s too much cholesterol circulating in the blood then it can stick to the walls of your arteries. If too much is allowed to build up, it can form a hard, waxy plaque that reduces blood flow to vital organs such as the heart and brain. Limiting the blood flow to these organs is dangerous because it increases the chance of experiencing heart attacks and brain damage. On top of this, clogged blood vessels can also cause erectile dysfunction, as the reduction in blood flow around the body can also impact the ability to get and maintain an erection (more on this here).
What causes high cholesterol levels?
A diet high in saturated fats can raise your cholesterol levels beyond what is normal and healthy. Foods that are high in saturated fat include:
- Fatty animal meat (e.g. lamb chops and fatty cuts of steak)
- Deep fried food such as fries, chicken nuggets, hash browns, etc.
Other lifestyle factors can also raise your cholesterol levels, such as:
- Not exercising enough
- Drinking too much alcohol
- Being overweight
In summary, a poor diet and an unhealthy lifestyle are likely to elevate your cholesterol levels. Sometimes, high cholesterol levels can also be caused by a genetic condition known as familial hypercholesterolemia. However, in most cases, high cholesterol levels are caused by a diet high in saturated fats and an unhealthy lifestyle.
How do I tell if I have high cholesterol?
As mentioned before, the only way to tell if you have high cholesterol is by taking a blood test that measures your cholesterol levels. High cholesterol is usually symptomless, meaning you can’t feel or see whether you have high cholesterol levels. Taking a blood test can tell you exactly what your cholesterol levels are so you can take the steps needed to keep them in check.
Nowadays, you can measure your cholesterol levels from the comfort of your home using a home blood test kit. A home blood test is a simple finger prick test that allows you to get an accurate picture of your health without needing to see a doctor in person.
It comes with all the equipment you need to safely take a blood sample at home, as well as easy-to-follow instructions that make the process as easy as possible - even if you’ve never done it before.
Additionally, all our home blood tests come with a free review from a clinician who personally checks your results to make sure they’re ok, and gives you feedback to help you understand them.
Your results should only take three to five days to get back to you once they reach our partner lab, and when they do, you can view them securely on your Numan account any time to help you monitor your health.
How do I lower my cholesterol?
If you take a blood test and discover your cholesterol levels are slightly higher than they should be, then there are numerous ways to lower your cholesterol levels:
- Eat less saturated fat: avoid foods that contain a lot of saturated fat like burgers, pies, and chocolate.
- Eat more unsaturated fat: eating sources of unsaturated fat (e.g. olive oil, avocado, and oily fish) can help you to improve your cholesterol levels.
- Quit smoking: quitting smoking yields almost immediate benefits for your health. After just one week, the cholesterol in your blood will become less “sticky” and your risk of heart attacks will decrease. And after one year, your risk of heart disease and heart attacks will be halved.
- Cut out alcohol: alcohol is broken down and rebuilt into cholesterol in the liver. Therefore, it’s best to reduce your alcohol intake to avoid having too much excess cholesterol build up in the blood. The government recommends that men and women do not drink more than 14 units of alcohol per week (which is equivalent to 6 pints of average-strength beer or 10 small glasses of low-strength wine).
- Exercise more: doing just 150 minutes of exercise a week (equal to 21 minutes per day) is all that’s needed to effectively improve cholesterol levels. If you’re not used to exercising regularly, you could start off by going for walks or by doing light resistance training (weight lifting).
The bottom line
Cholesterol plays many important roles in the body. However, too much cholesterol in the blood can cause various health problems, including heart attack and stroke.
High cholesterol doesn’t cause any symptoms, which is why it’s sometimes referred to as a “silent killer”. The only way to measure your cholesterol levels is with a blood test. These days, you can check your cholesterol levels from home with a home blood test. They’re easy to use, safe, and deliver accurate results relatively quickly.