Know your cholesterol numbers
Cholesterol is a fatty substance known as a lipid and is vital for the normal functioning of the body. It's mainly made by the liver, but are also found in some foods. However, it is foods that are high in saturated fat which leads to elevated Cholesterol levels.
Cholesterol is carried in your blood by proteins, and when the two combine they're called lipoproteins. The total cholesterol values are made of of two main types of lipoprotein:
High-density lipoprotein (HDL) – which carries cholesterol away from the cells and back to the liver, where it's either broken down or passed out of the body as a waste product. For this reason, HDL is referred to as "good cholesterol" and higher levels are better.
Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) – which carries cholesterol to the cells that need it. If there's too much cholesterol for the cells to use, it can build up in the artery walls, leading to disease of the arteries. For this reason, LDL is known as "bad cholesterol".
The amount of cholesterol in the blood (both HDL and LDL) can be measured with a blood test. The recommended cholesterol levels in the blood vary between those with a higher or lower risk of developing arterial disease.
What should my cholesterol levels be?
Blood cholesterol is measured in units called millimoles per litre of blood, often shortened to mmol/L.
As a general guide, total cholesterol levels should be:
As a general guide, LDL levels should be:
An ideal level of HDL is above 1 mmol/L. A lower level of HDL can increase your risk of heart disease.
The first step in reducing your cholesterol is to maintain a healthy, balanced diet. It's important to keep your diet low in fatty food. You can swap food containing saturated fat for fruit, vegetables and wholegrain cereals. This will also help to prevent high cholesterol returning. Other lifestyle changes, such as taking regular exercise and giving up smoking (if you smoke), can also make a big difference in helping to lower your cholesterol. If these measures don't reduce your cholesterol and you continue to have a high risk of developing heart disease, your GP may prescribe a cholesterol-lowering medication, such as statins. Your GP will take into account the risk of any side effects from statins, and the benefit of lowering your cholesterol must outweigh any risks.
Adults aged 40-74 will have their cholesterol checked as part of their NHS Health Check. If you are concerned about your cholesterol level, you can ask your GP for a blood test.