Cholesterol is both good and bad. At normal levels, it is an essential substance for the body. However, if concentrations in the blood get too high, it becomes a silent danger that puts people at risk of heart attack.
Cholesterol is found in every cell of the body and has important natural functions when it comes to digesting foods, producing hormones, and generating vitamin D. It is manufactured by the body but can also be taken in from food. It is waxy and fat-like in appearance.
There are two types of cholesterol; LDL (low-density lipoproteins, bad cholesterol) and HDL (high-density lipoproteins, good cholesterol).
In this article, we will explain the role of cholesterol. We will also discuss the causes of high cholesterol, and its symptoms, treatment, and prevention.
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Fast facts on cholesterol:
Cholesterol is an essential substance that is produced by the body but is also ingested from animal-derived foods.
The greatest risk factors for high cholesterol are modifiable lifestyle choices – diet and exercise.
Having high cholesterol does not usually produce any symptoms.
If lifestyle changes are unsuccessful or cholesterol levels are very high, lipid-lowering drugs such as statins may be prescribed.
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is an oil-based substance and does not mix with the blood, which is water-based. It is carried around the body by lipoproteins.
Two types of lipoprotein carry the parcels of cholesterol:
Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) – cholesterol carried by this type is known as “bad” cholesterol.
High-density lipoprotein (HDL) – cholesterol carried by this type is known as “good” cholesterol.
Cholesterol has four primary functions, without which we could not survive, these are:
contributing to the structure of cell walls
making up digestive bile acids in the intestine
allowing the body to produce vitamin D
enabling the body to make certain hormones
Causes of high cholesterol
High cholesterol is a significant risk factor for coronary heart disease and a cause of heart attacks. A build-up of cholesterol is part of the process that narrows arteries, called atherosclerosis, in which plaques form and cause restriction of blood flow.
Reducing intake of fat in the diet helps manage cholesterol levels. In particular, it is helpful to limit foods that contain:
Cholesterol – from animal foods, meat, and cheese.
Saturated fat – found in some meats, dairy products, chocolate, baked goods, deep-fried, and processed foods.
Trans fats – found in some fried and processed foods.
Being overweight or obese can also lead to higher blood LDL levels. Genetics can contribute to high cholesterol – very high LDL levels are found in the inherited condition familial hypercholesterolemia. Abnormal cholesterol levels can also arise due to other conditions, including:
liver or kidney disease
polycystic ovary syndrome
pregnancy and other conditions that increase levels of female hormones
underactive thyroid gland
drugs that increase LDL cholesterol and decrease HDL cholesterol (progestins, anabolic steroids, and corticosteroids).
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Usual triggers of Schizophrenia
The exact causes of schizophrenia are unknown. Research suggests a combination of physical, genetic, psychological and environmental factors can make a person prone to developing the condition.
Some people may be prone to schizophrenia, and a stressful or emotional life event might trigger a psychotic episode. However, it’s not known why some people develop symptoms while others don’t.
Things that increase the chances of schizophrenia developing include:Genetics
Schizophrenia tends to run in families, but no single gene is proved to be responsible. It’s more likely that different combinations of genes make people more vulnerable to the condition. However, having these genes doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll develop schizophrenia.
Evidence that the disorder is partly inherited comes from studies of twins. Identical twins share the same genes. If one twin develops schizophrenia, the other twin has a one in two chance of developing it, too. This is true even if they’re raised separately unlike in the case of unidentical twins.
While this is higher than in the general population, where the chance is about 1 in 100, it suggests genes aren’t the only factor influencing the development of schizophrenia.
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Studies of people with schizophrenia have shown there are subtle differences in the structure of their brains. These changes aren’t seen in everyone with schizophrenia and can occur in people who don’t have a mental illness. But they suggest schizophrenia may partly be a disorder of the brain.
Neurotransmitters are chemicals that carry messages between brain cells. There is a connection between neurotransmitters and schizophrenia because drugs that alter the levels of neurotransmitters in the brain are known to relieve some of the symptoms of schizophrenia.
Research suggests schizophrenia may be caused by a change in the level of two neurotransmitters: dopamine and serotonin. Some studies indicate an imbalance between the two may be the basis of the problem. Others have found a change in the body’s sensitivity to the neurotransmitters is part of the cause of schizophrenia.
Pregnancy and birth complications
Research has shown people who develop schizophrenia are more likely to have experienced complications before and during their birth, such as: low birth weight, premature labor, lack of oxygen (asphyxia) during birth
Triggers are things that can cause schizophrenia to develop in people who are at risk. The main psychological triggers of schizophrenia are stressful life events, such as: bereavement, losing your job or home, divorce, end of a relationship, physical, sexual or emotional abuse
These kinds of experiences, although stressful, don’t cause schizophrenia. However, they can trigger its development in someone already vulnerable to it.
Drugs don’t directly cause schizophrenia, but studies have shown drug misuse increases the risk of developing schizophrenia or a similar illness. Certain drugs, particularly cannabis , cocaine, LSD or amphetamines, may trigger symptoms of schizophrenia in people who are susceptible.
Three major studies have shown teenagers under 15 who use cannabis regularly, especially “skunk” and other more potent forms of the drug, are up to four times more likely to develop schizophrenia by the age of 26.
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Quick rise in young people with Type 2 diabetes is alarming
Hundreds of young people are being treated for Type 2 diabetes, a 41% rise in just four years.
The condition occurs when the body cannot make enough insulin to regulate blood sugar levels.
It is often linked to obesity and is most commonly seen in adults, where it can lead to a range of health problems such as heart disease and strokes.
Some 715 people under the age of 25 received treatment for the disease in England and Wales during 2016/17 and 78.6% of them were obese.
The number of cases is up from the 507 registered in 2013/14, according to the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.
But the true number may be much higher, as the RCPCH recorded only those young people being treated in paediatric units, not by a GP.
Professor Russell Viner, president of the RCPCH, said: “A rise in Type 2 diabetes of this magnitude is alarming and shows that the childhood obesity epidemic is starting to bite.
“It’s also concerning that we might not be seeing the full picture.”
The Local Government Association, which represents 370 councils in England and Wales, said more support was needed, especially for obese children and ethnic minorities, as almost half of those treated in 2016/17 were black or Asian.
Izzi Seccombe, chairwoman of the LGA’s community wellbeing board, said: “These figures are a sad indictment of how we have collectively failed as a society to tackle childhood obesity, one of the biggest health challenges we face.”
She called for “urgent action”, saying: “Type 2 diabetes can be a lifelong debilitating illness and these figures will only multiply if we delay.