Cholesterol is a fatty substance found in the
blood. It's mainly made in the body, and plays an essential role in
how every cell in the body works. However, too much cholesterol in
the blood can increase your risk of cardiovascular
LDL cholesterol and HDL cholesterol
Cholesterol is carried around the body by proteins. These
combinations of cholesterol and proteins are called
lipoproteins. There are two main types of lipoproteins:
- LDL (low-density lipoprotein) is
the harmful type of cholesterol
- HDL (high-density lipoprotein) is
a protective type of cholesterol
Having too much harmful cholesterol in your
blood can increase your risk of getting cardiovascular disease. The
risk is particularly high if you have a high level of LDL
cholesterol and a low level of HDL cholesterol.
Podcast - Five things you can do to lower your cholesterol
Triglycerides are another type
of fatty substance in the blood. They're found in foods such as
dairy products, meat and cooking oils. They can also be produced in
the body, either by the body’s fat stores or in the liver.
People who are very overweight, eat a lot of
fatty and sugary foods, or drink too much alcohol are more likely
to have a high triglyceride level. People with high triglyceride
levels have a greater risk of developing cardiovascular disease than people with lower
What causes high cholesterol?
A common cause of high blood cholesterol levels is eating too
much saturated fat.
However, some people have high blood cholesterol even though
they eat a healthy diet. For example, they may have inherited a
condition called familial hyperlipidaemia
The cholesterol which is found in some foods such as eggs,
liver, kidneys and some types of seafood eg. prawns, does
not usually make a great
contribution to the level of cholesterol in your blood. It's much
more important that you eat foods that are low in saturated
How can I reduce my cholesterol level?
Cut down on saturated fats
To help reduce your cholesterol level, you need to
cut down on saturated fats and instead use unsaturated
fats such as olive, rapeseed or sunflower oilds and
spreads. You should also reduce the total amount of
fat you eat.
Eat oily fish regularly
Oily fish provides the richest source of a particular type
of polyunsaturated fat known as omega-3. Omega-3 from oily fish can
help to lower blood triglyceride levels, helps prevent the blood
from clotting, and can also help to regulate the heart
Eat a high-fibre diet
Foods that are high in soluble
fibre such as oats, beans, pulses, lentils, nuts, fruits and
vegetables, can help lower cholesterol.
Do regular physical activity
This can help increase your HDL cholesterol (the 'protective'
type of cholesterol).
Will eating sterol-enriched foods help reduce my
Although the effect varies between
individuals, there is evidence to show that substances called
plant sterols and stanols can help to reduce LDL cholesterol
levels by up to 10-15% when 2g per day is regularly consumed as
part of a healthy balanced diet. Stanols and sterols are added to
certain foods including margarines, spreads, soft cheeses and
But remember, these products are not a
substitute for a healthy, balanced diet or a replacement for
cholesterol lowering drugs. If you decide to use these products
make sure you follow the manufacturer's instructions on the amounts
you need to consume each day to provide you with 2g of the plant
stanol or sterol.
I've heard that eating too many eggs can raise
your cholesterol - how many can I eat?
For most people there is currently no limit on
the number of eggs that you can eat in a week. However, because the
recommendation has changed over the years, it's often a common
source of confusion.
In the past a restriction on eggs was
recommended because we thought that foods high in cholesterol
(including liver, kidneys and shellfish, as well as eggs) could
have an impact on cholesterol levels in the body.
However, as research in this area has
developed, so has our understanding of how foods that contain
cholesterol affect people’s heart health.
For most people, the amount of saturated fat
they eat has much more of an impact on their cholesterol than
eating foods that contain cholesterol, like eggs and shellfish. So
unless you have been advised otherwise by your doctor or dietician,
if you like eggs, they can be included as part of a balanced and
Will I need to take medication?
Whether you need to take cholesterol-lowering drugs or not
depends not just on your total cholesterol, HDL and LDL levels, but
also on your overall risk of cardiovascular disease.
Cholesterol-lowering medicines such as
statins are prescribed for people who are at greatest overall
risk of suffering from cardiovascular disease.