Heart health dictionary

- Cholesterol and the heart -

This glossary includes some of the most commonly used terms related to heart health and cholesterol to help you understand what it is all about.


Also known as atherosclerotic plaque, or plaque. Cholesterol, fats and other substances are deposited in the inner artery wall, causing atherosclerosis. (See: Atherosclerosis)



Hardening and narrowing of the arteries resulting from growing atheromas. A progressive, silent condition that can gradually lead to the blockage of arteries and restricted blood flow. Atherosclerosis is the main underlying cause of cardiovascular diseases, including heart attack and stroke. It is brought on by a variety of factors, such as elevated blood cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, or smoking. (See: Cardiovascular disease, Heart attack, Stroke, High blood pressure, LDL cholesterol)


Benecol products contain Plant stanol ester and are proven to lower cholesterol by 7–10 % in 2–3 weeks. What's more, cholesterol levels will remain at the lower level reached as long as Benecol products are used daily with a meal. (See: Plant stanol ester)


Blood pressure

The pressure in your main artery system. It is usually measured on your arm. (See: Systolic blood pressure, Diastolic blood pressure, mmHg)



Body mass index. Used as a guide to determine whether you are at a healthy weight, overweight, or underweight. (See: How can I calculate my body mass index)


Cardiovascular disease

Any disease affecting the heart or the vascular system. Cardiovascular diseases are the main causes of death and disability in most parts of the world. (See: Coronary heart disease, Heart attack and Stroke)



A waxy, fat-like substance found in your blood that is produced by your liver and obtained via food. Cholesterol travels through your bloodstream in small packages called lipoproteins (low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and high-density lipoproteins (HDL)). Cholesterol is essential for your body's good functioning, for instance in the production of new cells. However, too much cholesterol circulating in your blood increases your risk of coronary heart disease. Globally, one third of all heart disease cases are caused by high cholesterol. (See: LDL, HDL, Lipoprotein).


Coronary heart disease

Commonly referred to as heart disease. A disease where atheromas build up in the arteries that supply blood to the heart. Following this, one or more of these arteries can be narrowed or partially blocked. The blockage deprives the heart muscle of oxygen and may lead to chest pain or even a heart attack. (See: Heart attack)


Diastolic blood pressure

The second number in a blood pressure reading that indicates the pressure in the arteries when the heart rests between the beats. A healthy diastolic blood pressure number is below 80 mmHg. (See: High blood pressure, Systolic blood pressure)



Dyslipidemia means that there is an abnormal level – (either too high or too low– )  of one or more of the blood lipids (e.g. cholesterol). Thus, a person with dyslipidemia can have high blood total cholesterol, high blood LDL cholesterol, high blood triglyceride, low blood HDL cholesterol concentration, or some combination of these.


Familiar hypercholesterolemia

An genetic condition passed down from one generation to the next, characterized by high cholesterol levels.


HDL cholesterol

High-density lipoprotein, a particle that carries cholesterol away from the arteries and back to the liver, where it is broken down and removed from the body. That's why cholesterol measured as HDL cholesterol is also known also as ‘good cholesterol'. A healthy level of HDL cholesterol is above 40 mg/dl or 1 mmol/l (for men) and above 50 mg/dl or 1.3 mmol/l (for women).


Heart attack

Also called myocardial infarction, or MI. A potentially deadly condition that occurs when the blood flow that brings oxygen to the heart muscle is severely reduced or cut off completely. This happens because coronary arteries that supply the heart muscle with blood can slowly narrow from a build-up of cholesterol (also referred to as an atheroma or atherosclerotic plaque) that is deposited in the artery wall. If an atheroma in a heart artery ruptures, a blood clot forms over the atheroma. This blood clot can block the blood flow through the heart muscle.

(See: Atheroma, Atherosclerosis)


High blood pressure (hypertension)

High blood pressure is a condition in which the force of the blood against the artery walls is high enough to cause the larger arteries to become rigid, and the smaller vessels to become narrower. This restricts blood flow so that blood needs to be pumped at a higher force, which can lead to a heart attack. (See: Diastolic blood pressure, Systolic blood pressure)


High cholesterol (hypercholesterolemia)

High cholesterol is a condition in which the concentration of cholesterol in your blood is higher than recommended. If you are generally healthy, your recommended total cholesterol is below 5.0 mmol/l or 200 mg/dl. If you have other risk factors, such high blood pressure, or if you smoke, the target level for your total cholesterol is below 4.5 mmol/l or 180 mg/dl.


How can I calculate my body mass index?

BMI = weight (kg) / height (m) x height (m)

 e.g. 70 kg / (1.70m x 1.70m) = 24.2.

BMI < 18.5 Underweight

BMI = 18.5–25 Normal weight

BMI > 25 Overweight



See: High cholesterol



See: High blood pressure


LDL cholesterol

Low-density lipoprotein is a particle that carries cholesterol to the arteries and to the other parts of the body. When the level of cholesterol carried by LDL (i.e. LDL cholesterol) is too high, it can cause cholesterol build-up and blockage in the arteries. That's why LDL cholesterol is often referred as ‘bad cholesterol'.

An ideal level of LDL cholesterol is below 120 mg/dl or 3.0 mmol/l. For people at high risk of developing heart disease the target level is below 100 mg/dl or 2.5 mmol/l. An ideal level for people at very high risk of heart disease is below 70 mg/dl or 1.8 mmol/l. (See: Atherosclerosis)


Lipid lowering drug

A drug used to bring down your cholesterol levels.



Molecules transporting cholesterol and triglycerides through your bloodstream. Two of the most important varieties of lipoproteins are LDL and HDL. (See: LDL cholesterol and HDL cholesterol).



Milligrams per deciliter. A unit used to measure the level of cholesterol and other fats in the blood.



Millimeters of mercury. A unit used to measure blood pressure.



Millimoles per litre. A unit used to measure the level of cholesterol and other fats in the blood.


Plant stanol ester

Plant stanols are compounds, which are found naturally: e.g. in cereals, fruits and vegetables, mainly as their fatty acid esters, (i.e. Plant stanol ester). The levels obtained from a regular daily diet are too low to be effective in lowering blood cholesterol, which is why Plant stanol ester is added to Benecol foods and supplements. With 2 grams of plant stanols a day you get the optimal cholesterol lowering effect.

This recommended daily intake can be easily achieved by using Benecol foods and supplements.

A sufficient daily consumption of Benecol foods lowers your cholesterol by 7-10% as quickly as in 2-3 weeks. What's more, the daily use of Benecol together with your daily meals keeps your cholesterol at a lower level also in the long-term.


Risk factor for coronary heart disease

A factor that increases your likelihood of developing coronary heart disease. The main risk factors for coronary heart disease include high cholesterol, high blood pressure, overweight, diabetes, smoking, physical inactivity, unhealthy diet, gender, age, and genes. Although you can't change your age or genes, there's a lot you can do to improve your risk factor levels with healthy lifestyle choices. Blood cholesterol level is one of the risk factors that is the most easy to change by choosing a heart-healthy diet.


Saturated fat

A type of fat found mainly in foods from animal sources, particularly butter and fatty dairy and meat products. Also some vegetable fats like coconut and palm oil contain large amounts of saturated fats. A diet high in saturated fat increases blood LDL cholesterol levels.



A stroke occurs when an artery that carries blood to the brain is either blocked by a clot or ruptures. In this situation, the brain cannot get the blood and oxygen it needs. A stroke can happen in different parts of the brain, resulting in different effects.


Systolic blood pressure

The first number in a blood pressure reading. When your heart beats, it contracts and pumps blood through the arteries to the rest of the body, which creates pressure on the arteries. A healthy systolic blood pressure is below 120 mmHg. (See: High blood pressure, Diastolic blood pressure)


Total cholesterol

The measure of all cholesterol in the blood, mainly LDL cholesterol and HDL cholesterol. A desirable level of total cholesterol is below 200 mg/dl or 5.0 mmol/l.



A type of fat found in the blood. Most fats found in food and in the body are in the form of triglycerides, and they are an important source of energy. Elevated blood triglyceride levels* may increase the risk of coronary heart disease. This concerns especially people with a low blood HDL cholesterol level and elevated LDL cholesterol level, as well as diabetics.

*The target levels for blood triglycerides vary, but levels above 1.7 or 2.0 mmol/l (or 150 or 200 mg/dl) are usually considered elevated.


Unsaturated fat

Includes monounsaturated fats (MUFAs) and polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs). These healthy types of fats should form most of the fats in your diet, and they can help lower the blood LDL cholesterol level. Unsaturated fats are found in a variety of foods, including vegetable oils (e.g. rapeseed oil and olive oil), soft margarines and spreads, mayonnaise, nuts and seeds, as well as fatty fish.