Cholesterol is present in every cell of the body. The substance has a hugely important role in your body – helping you digest foods, produce hormones and generate vitamin D. The body produces it but it is also found in food. High cholesterol is a silent killer which usually shows no symptoms, but it can have life-threatening complications so it is best to ensure your lower your cholesterol level if you are at risk.
High cholesterol takes place when you have too much of a fatty substance called cholesterol in your blood.
The condition is caused by eating fatty food and not exercising enough.
In addition, high cholesterol is caused by being overweight, smoking and drinking alcohol.
The condition also runs in families which means it can be inherited.
Too much cholesterol can block your blood vessels and mean it is more likely for someone to experience heart problems or a stroke.
Blood cholesterol levels are measured using a simple blood test.
If you are concerned about your cholesterol level, you should speak to your GP about it.
Those aged 40 to 74 can get their cholesterol checked as part of an NHS health check.
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The blood is checked for levels of good (HDL) cholesterol, bad (non-HDL) cholesterol and triglycerides, as well as your overall cholesterol level.
HDL cholesterol gets rid of bad cholesterol in your blood and it takes cholesterol that is not needed back to your liver so it can be broken down and passed out of your body.
Non-HDL cholesterol is bad because when there is too much of it, it can build up inside the walls of the blood vessels, clogging them and narrowing your arteries.
Triglycerides are a type of fat stored in the body’s fat cells.
They contribute to the narrowing of your artery walls, increasing your risk.
Trans fats work by raising your cholesterol levels and are often found in animal products such as dairy and meat products.
Most people in the UK do not consume large amounts of trans fats, but you should avoid trans fats and artificial trans fats, found in biscuits and cakes, to lower your cholesterol levels.
If you want to reduce your cholesterol level, you should check food labels for hydrogenated fats and oils.
Cut down on total fat
Reducing the amount of fat in your diet will help to reduce your cholesterol level.
Instead of frying or roasting foods, your should try to grill, steam, boil, poach or microwave foods.
Lean cuts of meats rather than fatty meats will also help to reduce the total fat you consume.
There are several products that have full-fat and lower-fat varieties – therefore eating the lower-fat version will be healthier.
Fibre helps to lower your risk of heart disease and cholesterol level.
Adults should eat 30g of fibre a day and consume a mix of different fibre sources.
High-fibre foods include wholemeal bread, bran, wholegrain cereals, fruits, vegetables, potatoes with their skins on, oats, barley, pulses, nuts and seeds.
Eating at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day will help to lower your cholesterol level.
Increasing your activity levels by undertaking more exercise can help to cut down your cholesterol levels.
You should aim to undertake at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity every week to improve your cholesterol levels.
Moderate aerobic activity means you are working hard enough to raise your heart rate and break a sweat.
There are special cholesterol-lowering products that are designed to help reduce your cholesterol level.
These products are not recommended by doctors, who instead say there is no substitute for a healthy and balanced diet.
These products are designed for people who already have high cholesterol, but it is not essential to eat plant sterols or stanols to help manage your cholesterol.
For those consuming these products, make sure to read the label carefully as they can be damaging to your health if eaten incorrectly.
Statins are medications designed to lower your cholesterol.
These are usually offered to those who have been diagnosed with coronary heart disease, another cardiovascular disease or those with a family history indicating they could develop the condition over the next 10 years.
You can also buy over-the-counter statins, but you should speak to your doctor who can also prescribe them.