Click below to read:
Do Cholesterol Lowering Drugs Increase Cancer Risk?
This is a fatty substance mainly made by your liver out of the saturated fats in food. It's a mistake to think that cholesterol is a universally bad thing: some is essential, but too much can cause heart disease. There are two types - low-density lipoproteins (LDL) which carry cholesterol from the liver to your cells, and high-density lipoproteins (HDL) which return any cholesterol your body doesn't need to the liver.
People often think their total cholesterol needs to be under 5 millimoles per litre of blood (mmol/I), but that's too simplistic.
"It's not the raw number that's important. It's the ratio between the two types," says Dr Annabel Bentley, assistant medical director at BUPA, which includes up to 40 medical checks in its Wellness survey. "You want a low LDL reading and a high HDL." Conventional wisdom has it that you can increase your HDL with exercise and reduce your LDL by cutting out saturated fats and eating monounsaturated fats. This is true, but the impact of diet isn't as great as people may think. "Even if you were the perfect person and ate no saturated fat at all, you might only reduce your figure by 5 or 10%”, says Dr Bentley. Much better, she says, is to eat regular amounts of plant sterols – the ingredients in foods such as Flora Proactive and Benecol.
The number crunch ideally: your LDL should be under 3 and your HDL above 1. The total should be below 5 (the average in Britain is 5.5). You can work out your risk of heart disease by dividing your total by your HDL. The larger the result, the more dangerous for your health; you should aim to be below 4.5. So if your total is 6, but your HDL is 2, your score is 3, which is satisfactory. But if your total is 6 and your HDL is only 0.5, your score is a rather hefty 12.