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Professor Philip Calder

Head of Human Development & Health, University of Southampton

Early identification of elevated cholesterol levels in younger adults can have significant long-term benefits later in life.

Identifying disease risk

If people take action early on, even modest decreases in cholesterol can have benefits, explains Professor Philip Calder, Head of Human Development & Health, University of Southampton, who has an interest in nutrition and disease risk.

While there are different types of cholesterol in the blood, it is LDL (low density lipoprotein) cholesterol that is the harmful, or ‘bad’ cholesterol.

“It increases risk of heart disease because cholesterol can be deposited in the blood vessel wall and that starts the process of clogging up the arteries. It is very important for people who have high cholesterol to lower their levels,” he says.

Early intervention

However, while there is a focus on finding people with high cholesterol and trying to get them to lower it through lifestyle interventions or statin drugs, Professor Calder believes that younger people with lower cholesterol should also be aware of the potential future risk.

“Cholesterol levels go up as we age, so it makes good sense to catch people sooner and try to help them not go along the path of having high cholesterol,” he adds. “Tackling cholesterol earlier, before it has got too high, is very important.”

Younger people with lower cholesterol should also be aware of the potential future risk.

Lifestyle and dietary choices

Figures show that if you lower cholesterol by 10% in someone who is middle-aged, you can decrease the risk of heart disease in later life by 50%.

By highlighting the risk to people earlier in life, he says they can make lifestyle and dietary choices to reduce later risk.

Weight loss, reducing alcohol intake, doing more physical exercise and changing diet are all important. “There is a direct link between what people eat and their blood cholesterol concentration,” says Professor Calder.

Saturated fats such as in animal fat, butter, high-fat cheese and palm oils can raise cholesterol. He suggests people switch to unsaturated fat by using margarine-type spreads, vegetable oils and eat more fibre.

Plant stanols in food

“In addition, people might want to think about plant stanols,” he says. “For example, Benecol® products contain plant stanols and these partly stop you absorbing cholesterol into the body, and that can lower cholesterol.”

Plant stanols are found naturally in foods, so combined with other lifestyle interventions, food with added plant stanols can help people to take control of their cholesterol levels, one of the risk factors for coronary heart disease.

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