High cholesterol describes a condition where an individual has a high amount of ‘bad’ ‘LDL’ cholesterol (standing for low density lipoprotein). Cholesterol itself is a type of fat that is produced naturally in the body and that is found in many foods. ‘Good’ cholesterol in the right quantities is important for helping to build the outer wall of cells and for creating digestive enzymes and certain vitamins and hormones.
However when an individual has too much LDL cholesterol in their system, this then adds a thick viscosity and fat to your veins and arteries. This in turn means that there is less ‘space’ in your veins and arteries for blood to be pumped around and that means it is packed in more tightly – i.e. it causes high blood pressure. At the same time this can also cause your veins to become rigid and less flexible and if it builds up too much it can even cause a blood clot. Having high cholesterol increases blood pressure, increases your chances of heart attack or stroke, leaves you short of breath and makes it more difficult for the body to get minerals and vitamins from your food to where they are needed in the body.
Is Cholesterol Hereditary?
The question is – is cholesterol hereditary? As in, does it run in families and might a person be genetically predispositioned to get high cholesterol?
The answer is yes… to some degree and in some cases. If you are suffering from cholesterol that is believed to be hereditary then it is known as ‘hypercholesterolaemia’. Hypercholesterolaemia affects 1 in 500 members of the population and is present from childhood, which is how it can be told apart from other forms. The siblings and children of someone with hypercholesterolaemia are 50% likely to get the condition.
This problem is caused by a specific gene defect which means the individuals have a measurable lack of LDL receptors in the blood. These are designed to remove LDL from the blood, and this then means that there is an unusually high about of LDL in the body. The condition is usually treated with medication and diet.
‘Regular’ high cholesterol though is also made more likely it seems by others in your family having the condition. Studies have demonstrated that high cholesterol can have a hereditary link. This is because cholesterol can be caused by a genetic mutation which causes your body to produce more cholesterol than is normal. That then means that you may be producing more cholesterol naturally as a result of your DNA inherited from your predecessors. In other words, if you have that certain genetic mutation, then it will take less LDL from your diet to knock you over the dangerous threshold into having high cholesterol.
Meanwhile researchers from the William Harvey Research Institute at Barts discovered a chromosomal region that is linked to LDL cholesterol. Other studies have simply found correlations that show that a person whose parents have high cholesterol are statistically more likely to suffer from it themselves. Of course these studies have several confounding factors – not least the fact that someone with high cholesterol is more likely to follow a certain diet and that they might inflict this on their family.
Either way, it is more than safe to say that high cholesterol is not just hereditary and that there are many other lifestyle factors that contribute to levels of LDL. Your diet for instance of course plays a big role, and if you eat lots of fatty foods then you are more likely to find this fat building up dangerously in your veins. Likewise, by eating the ‘good cholesterol’ (HDL – or high density lipoprotein) you can decrease the amount of LDL. So in other words, reduce your consumption of red meat, pork, cheese, butter, cream, tinned foods, fast foods and lard; and increase your consumption of olive oil, nuts, fish etc.
Other things also influence your likelihood to suffer from high LDL or otherwise. Exercise can also help to destroy LDL (and will also strengthen the heart decreases the likelihood of a heart attack caused by cholesterol), as can red wine. Fiber is also particularly good as it doesn’t get digested before it enters the blood stream – meaning that it can ‘sweep through’ the veins and arteries and clear away any debris as it does. Eating high fiber diets and things like garlic can greatly reduce high cholesterol.
If you smoke then this on the other hand will considerably increase your likelihood of high cholesterol, and as you get older your chances increase do (obesity is also a risk factor). Finally, certain diseases and conditions can make you more likely to suffer from high cholesterol and these include hypothyroidism and diabetes.
Thus, you can make yourself less likely to suffer from high cholesterol by exercising regularly, by eating a diet high in HDL and low in LDL, consuming red wine, eating lots of fiber and avoiding smoking etc. Of course you should always aim to act this way and reduce cholesterol, but if there is a history of the condition in your family, or if you already suffer from cholesterol, then this is even more important.