What is it, and what can I do?

What is it?

Cholesterol is a type of fat found in some food that then ends up in your body. Whilst cholesterol is an essential building block of cells in your body, like most things in high levels it can harm your health. 


Why does it matter?

High cholesterol levels in the blood increase the risk of developing Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) by promoting the build up of fatty plaque in artery walls that can harden and narrow the arteries. In the UK, heart disease kills 180,000 people annually.

Your liver makes most of the cholesterol your body needs, although many foodstuffs contain some cholesterol, it is the type of fat you eat and the lifestyle you lead that will greatly in influence both the amount and type of cholesterol made in your body.

It is really important to get regular checks if you have a higher risk of coronary heart disease. 

The risk factors are:

  1. Those aged 45-64
  2. Diabetics
  3. Those with familial hyperlipidaemia (family history of high cholesterol)
  4. Those overweight or obese
  5. Those of south Asian origin

What should it be? 

In general there are two types of cholesterol: ‘Good’ and ‘Bad’ are the common ways that people refer to them. ‘Good’ cholesterol refers to something called HDL whilst, ‘Bad’ cholesterol is referring to LDL.

Low Density Lipoproteins (LDL) carry cholesterol to where it is needed and in high levels deposit in blood vessel walls causing atherosclerosis and this leads to coronary heart disease. 

High Density Lipoproteins (HDL) return the cholesterol not needed by the body back to the liver and in general take cholesterol away from the heart. 

This is why a low HDL and high LDL are not good for good heart health and can be dangerous. In addition, we check the Total cholesterol in testing as this is a good indicator of your cholesterol health, which looks at both of these categories combined, as well as  something called VLDL (Very Low Density Lipoprotein).

The desirable levels for your cholesterol are:

  • A total cholesterol level below 5 mmol/l 
  • LDL cholesterol below 3 mmol/l
  • HDL cholesterol above 1 mmol/l

It is important to make sure that you seek advice following any test from a medical professional who can give you the appropriate treatment or management plan according to your individual history. 

What can I do to help my cholesterol levels?

Cholesterol levels can be managed by following a healthy diet, having a more physically active lifestyle and in some cases with medication. 

In order to keep your heart healthy there are some simple changes you can make to your diet:

  • Eat regular meals and don't snack in between
  • Manage your body weight, if you are overweight now is the time to start trying to lose the excess
  • Eat your 5 a day of fruit and vegetables. You should try to eat 5 pieces of fruit and vegetables every day. As antioxidants they stop LDL from depositing in your blood vessels (if you suffer Diabetes you should seek further medical advice before doing this)
  • Increase the fibre in your diet by adding high fibre foods such as oats, as they help absorb cholesterol during digestion and can lead to better levels. Keep your fibre uptake plentiful and ensure you add in such foods to your daily regime.

Can I get some practical tips?

  1. Boost your intake of fibre with oats – start the day with some porridge
  2. Choose wholegrain bread and lots of brown cereal and brown rice
  3. Trim off the fat you can see on your meats
  4. Start eating oily fish in your diet; salmon, mackerel, pilchards or sardines 
  5. Reduce the amount of cheese you eat ; if you are having cheddar opt for reduced fat
  6. Beans and pulses are a good source of fibre and low in saturated fats 
  7. Avoid processed foods like cakes and pastries and make your own more often

It important to be in control of your health. Exercise will empower you to take control of your cholesterol. Just 30 minutes a day of high intensity workouts that boost your heart rate and get you feeling warm will help reduce your LDL and, even better, boost your HDL levels!

Please note It is important to seek medical advice before making any major lifestyle changes especially if you suffer any medical conditions. Once you have been tested your doctor can advise accordingly.

With thanks to GPDQ,  16.10.17

Abby Hubbard