What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a vital substance in our bodies!

Cholesterol is a vital substance in our bodies, but if there is too much in your blood it can cause heart disease and stroke. Cholesterol is a fatty material called a lipid, which is found naturally in your blood. Cholesterol is a major part of all our body cells, the tiny ‘building blocks’ which we are made of. It also plays a part in our digestive and hormone systems.

Your body produces most of the cholesterol it needs in the liver. Eating too much saturated fat leads to the liver producing more cholesterol than you need. This enters your bloodstream, and can cause build-ups of fatty deposits in your arteries, known as atherosclerosis. Arteries can become narrowed and stiff because of the deposits. This can eventually lead to a clot forming and travelling to the brain, causing a stroke. You don’t need to avoid eating foods that contain cholesterol, such as eggs and seafood. But you should try to keep the overall amount of fat you have low, in particular

saturated and trans fats. This helps reduce blood cholesterol, and can also help with weight loss. Triglycerides are another type of fat found in your blood. Triglycerides are made in your liver but you can also find them in food like meat and dairy. Like cholesterol, it can cause deposits in the arteries. Cholesterol moves around the body by attaching itself to proteins in the blood. This mixture of cholesterol and protein is called a lipoprotein, and there are two types. Each type has an important role, but it’s important to have the right balance of both in your body.


LDL (low density lipoprotein) has the job of moving cholesterol to where it’s needed in your cells. But if there is too much LDL cholesterol in your blood, it can end up as fatty deposits in your arteries, increasing your risk of stroke.

HDL (high density lipoprotein) has the job of taking cholesterol away from the cells and back to the liver where it is destroyed. Because of this, it is known as good cholesterol, and you should aim to increase your levels of HDL.

What causes cholesterol:

For many people, high cholesterol levels are a result of eating too much saturated fat, and not enough unsaturated fats. There are other causes such as:

– Smoking.

– Drinking too much alcohol.

– Being overweight.

– Not exercising enough.

– Familial hypercholesterolaemia.

Some people also have high cholesterol because of an inherited genetic condition called familial hypercholesterolaemia (FH). This is when you have a very high level of cholesterol in your bloodstream which is not caused by diet or lifestyle. In the UK, it is likely that about 120,000 people have FH, but most don’t know they have it. If you have a history of early deaths from stroke or heart disease in your family, it is vital to have a cholesterol test. FH can be treated with cholesterol lowering drugs. If your cholesterol is over 7.5mmol/L you will be assessed for FH.


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