Contrary to popular belief, high cholesterol is not just a problem for the overweight – even the skinniest of us can have high cholesterol!

DON’T be afraid of the word “cholesterol”. In itself, cholesterol is not a bad thing.

In fact, your body requires cholesterol to keep running smoothly. The problem arises when your body has to deal with too much “bad” cholesterol.

The common misconception is that any kind of cholesterol is bad.

The human body naturally produces around three-quarters of all the cholesterol found in it. The remaining cholesterol in your body comes from the animal products you consume.

When the so-called bad cholesterol is not kept in check, it can build up in the artery walls and clog them, which can potentially lead to heart diseases and strokes.

High cholesterol is a common problem, especially in developed countries, where people are leading increasingly sedentary lives, and their diet consists of more and more processed foods.

A WHO report says that nearly 30% of adults in South-East Asia have increased levels of cholesterol. Although the numbers may look intimidating, the good news is that making minor adjustments to your diet and lifestyle can help manage bad cholesterol.

High cholesterol levels are associated with a slew of health risks, such as heart diseases and strokes. However, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), most people who have high cholesterol levels are not even aware of it, much less address the issue head on. This is because there are often no symptoms when you have high levels of cholesterol, making it difficult for us to detect and take action.

And, thankfully, testing for raised cholesterol levels is relatively easy these days. A blood sample and a quick analysis at the laboratory is all it takes.

Note that genetics play a part, so check your family’s history to see if immediate relatives have had heart disease or strokes caused by high cholesterol. If they were affected before they were 55, you’re at risk.

If you’ve already gone for the test and found out that your cholesterol levels are in the red, what can you do about it?

A healthy lifestyle – one that combines regular exercise and a balanced diet – is a good way to counter and prevent many ailments.

The good, the bad and the ugly

There are good cholesterols, and then there are bad cholesterols. Know the difference!

• LDL: Also known as bad cholesterol, too much of this in your blood will cause deposits to build up on the artery walls. This leads to clogging, which increases the risk of heart disease and stroke.

• HDL: This is the good cholesterol, which is believed to carry LDL away from the arteries, thus protecting against heart attacks.

• Triglycerides: A harmful fat produced in the body, mainly due to a sedentary lifestyle and a diet high in carbohydrates. High levels of triglycerides are associated with high LDL and low HDL levels.

• Lp(a): This is a genetic variation of LDL, which may contribute to the buildup of fatty deposits in the arteries.

A certain amount of cholesterol is required by the body to make cell membranes, hormones, vitamin D and the outer covering of nerves.

High cholesterol: associated factors

Diet – By checking your diet, you can easily gauge if you have high cholesterol or not. For example, if you are constantly consuming saturated fats and trans-fats – commonly found in animal fats, dairy products, cooking oils and margarines – there’s a good chance that your cholesterol may be running a little high.

Weight – Even though skinny people can have high cholesterol, weight can certainly contribute to your blood cholesterol levels. Being overweight also increases blood pressure, which can indirectly lead to heart diseases.

Age – Older adults tend to have higher levels of cholesterols compared to younger individuals. However, it is possible for children to have the same condition, too. And that is why early and regular check-ups are recommended.

Gender – According to the US National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, statistically, men are generally more prone to heart diseases, while women are more likely to suffer strokes; both conditions are related to high cholesterol.

Genetics – Even if you watch what you eat and live a healthy lifestyle, your cholesterol level may still be high – genetics may be the culprit here. Take a look at your family history. Don’t worry if there are relatives who had problems! This just means that you should get your cholesterol levels checked from time to time, just to make sure that you are in the clear.

Medical conditions – Ailments such as diabetes and high blood pressure are often associated with high cholesterol levels.

Cholesterol and your child

Children can also get high cholesterol levels. A healthy, balanced diet and an active lifestyle are needed to keep your child’s cholesterol level in check, but the approach is different from an adult’s.

• Check your child’s cholesterol levels.

The American Heart Association’s guidelines are: acceptable (less than 170 mg/dL); borderline (170-199 mg/dL); and high (200 mg/dL or greater).

• Read labels.

It is recommended that you keep your child’s cholesterol intake under 300mg a day (this equates to about 300g of beef, pork or poultry or one medium-sized egg).

• Take note of your child’s dietary needs.

What constitutes a balanced diet is different for babies, older kids, teenagers and adults. Babies and small children grow at a very fast rate, so ensure that they get enough fats. This should include animal fats rich in cholesterol, as these are essential for their development.

A baby’s recommended daily allowance for fats is around 40% of its caloric intake – far more than an adult’s.

• Maintain a smoke-free home.

Exposure to secondhand smoke can lower the levels of HDL in your children. Stub out to increase the level of good cholesterol in every member of your family.

• Exercise.

Exercising is the best way to raise HDL level. So make sure your kids start early.

Children are more likely to follow through if they do it with the family.

Here are a few ideas:

• Encourage your child to walk as much as possible, even when it may be more convenient for you to have them in a pram or in your arms.

• At the park, rather than just walking or jogging, incorporate fun activities such as tossing a frisbee or ball. That way, your kids will not view exercising as a chore.

• Get older children to accompany you when you’re walking around the city, running errands. Besides chalking up exercise points, exploring a city on foot has educational value.

• Limit TV/Internet/video game time to two hours or less (depending on age) every day.

For more information about staying fit and the Live Great Programme, please log on to

Fit For Life 2017 Penang

You can also visit the FitForLife Penang 2017 fair next month for more healthy living tips.

The fair’s theme “Get Fit. Live Great!” aims to inspire Malaysians to lead a healthy lifestyle and adopt a holistic approach to health that includes physical and mental fitness, financial health and general well-being.

The event will feature a diverse range of health and lifestyle products and services under one roof, catering to people of all ages.

Visitors can expect an array of products suitable for various health needs, such as supplements, diet and nutrition aids, health checks, alternative remedies and many others.

There will also be a diverse range of activities that will be organised during the fair.

This article is courtesy of Great Eastern Life. Star FitForLife Penang 2017 with the theme “Get Fit. Live Great!” is to inspire Malaysians to lead a healthy lifestyle by being physically and mentally fit. Star FitForLife Penang 2017 is organised by Star Media Group Berhad with Great Eastern Life as exclusive event partner. Nestlé Omega Plus is the official wellness sponsor. The fair will be held in Spice Arena (PISA), Penang, from November 17-19, 2017. It is open from 10am to 7pm and admission is free. For enquiries, call 03-79671388 (ext 1529/1243/1466) or visit us at