The focus of the medical and pharmaceutical industry is currently levelled at high cholesterol levels in the blood as one of the main causes of coronary heart disease.

It is recognised that one cannot predict the risk of coronary heart disease or heart attacks from levels of cholesterol alone but a reduction of 20-25 per cent in the blood stream significantly reduces the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

The main causes of high cholesterol are an unhealthy lifestyle and poor diet, although a small number of people have an inherited genetic tendency to high cholesterol, and even children as young as nine can be affected.

Many youngsters today will already have a build-up of cholesterol and blockage of arteries due to high intake of fatty, fast foods, sweets and smoking along with high levels of stress.

Diabetes, hypothyroidism (low thyroid status), oestrogen, some drugs, obesity, excessive alcohol and kidney failure can also contribute to high cholesterol levels in the blood.

High density cholesterol (HDL), the "good" cholesterol, should ideally measure more than 60mg/dL (below 40mg/dL is too low).

The optimal level for low density cholesterol (LDL), the harmful one which causes furring of the arteries, should be below 100mg/dL. Anything over 160 is high and levels over 190 are very high.

Conventional medical advice includes lack of exercise, smoking and excessive fat intake and alcohol as the most important causes of high cholesterol build-up in the body.

I find it strange that although cardiologists agree stress is the biggest factor in raising your cholesterol, it is hardly mentioned in any lectures or literature.

Modern medicine is pill-based and the main drugs currently being heavily promoted for saving lives from heart attacks are a group of drugs called statins.

Statins and other drugs are not free from side-effects and these can include muscle pain and/or weakness, blood disorders and even impotence in men as the drug interferes with the normal metabolism of fats in the liver.

Doctors are required to follow strict guidelines on treatments of high cholesterol with drugs. Kidney and liver functions of people taking such drugs have to be regularly monitored.

Dietary advice should also be available and patients are advised to do regular cardiovascular exercise for 20 minutes a day, three times a week. As well as relieving physical, mental and emotional stress, exercise should help people lose weight and reduce cholesterol.

What can you do naturally to prevent the build-up of cholesterol and clogging up of your arteries? I shall tell you in next week's column.