What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a fatty substance and is vital for your body to function properly. Most of the cholesterol in our body is made by the liver. Eating too much saturated fat (hard fats such as butter and lard) can increase the amount of cholesterol in your body, so it's best to stick to eating small amounts of unsaturated fats like olive oil.
Cholesterol is carried in your blood by proteins known as lipoproteins. There are two types of lipoprotein:
- Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) carries cholesterol from your liver to the cells that need it. It is often called ‘bad cholesterol’ because if there is too much, it can build up in your artery walls.
- High-density lipoprotein (HDL) is known as ‘good cholesterol’ because it carries bad cholesterol away from the cells and back to your liver, where it is either broken down or passed out of the body.
How do I know if I have it?
High cholesterol has no noticeable symptoms, so you need to have your cholesterol level checked, especially if you are over 40 and have any of the other main risk factors for the condition:
- A history of heart disease or high cholesterol in your family
- You are overweight
- You have high blood pressure or diabetes.
What can I do about high cholesterol?
You can lower your cholesterol by making sure your diet is healthy and low in saturated fats. If your doctor thinks that you are at a high risk of developing heart disease or stroke he or she may suggest that you take medication to help reduce your cholesterol as well. Drugs called statins can help to prevent fatty deposits forming and reduce your risk of stroke.
Find out more
- Download our Healthy eating and stroke guide to find out more about reducing cholesterol in your diet.