Lowering your cholesterol

Cholesterol is a fatty substance made in the liver and found in our blood, playing a vital role in how every cell in our body works. It is needed to make Vitamin D, some hormones and bile for the digestive system.

While it plays a vital role in how every cell works in your body, too much cholesterol in your blood increases your risk of heart and circulatory diseases.

'Good' and 'bad' cholesterol

'Bad' cholesterol can stick to the walls of your blood vessels, narrowing them and causing a stroke or heart attack.

'Good' cholesterol takes 'bad' cholesterol to the liver, where it is broken down and passed out of the body.

Levels and types of blood cholesterol can be affected by a number of factors:

  • The genes passed down from your family
    - including any history of stroke or heart disease
  • Your diet, weight and lifestyle
    - smoking stops 'good' cholesterol taking cholesterol from fatty deposits to the liver, leading to the narrowing of arteries
  • Your age and whether you are male or female
    - The older you get, the more likely you will have narrowing of the arteries, while men are more likely to have heart attacks
  • Ethnicity and your medical history, such as already having diabetes or high blood pressure

Maintaining a healthy cholesterol level

There are a number of ways to help keep your cholesterol at a healthy level:

  • Being active for 30 minutes a day strengthens the heart and increases your ‘good’ cholesterol
  • Stopping smoking lowers your cholesterol level and helps reduce the risk of heart disease
  • Maintaining a healthy balanced diet will help keep your cholesterol level low

Cholesterol and your diet

There are some simple dietary changes that can improve your cholesterol level, including:

  • Eating more fruit and vegetables
  • Avoiding foods high in saturated fat, which include butter and lard, cakes and biscuits, fatty meats and cheese, palm and coconut oils
  • Alternatives include spreads containing healthier oils, such as sunflower, olive, rapeseed and vegetable oils
  • Including foods high in Omega-3, such as avocados and oily fish (mackerel, salmon and tuna)
  • Eating wholegrain foods, such as oats, beans, pulses and lentils will help lower your cholesterol
  • 'Cholesterol busters' are particularly good at reducing cholesterol and include soya (an alternative to milk), oats and barley, all nuts and foods containing plant sterols

Cholesterol tests

Your GP may suggest having your blood cholesterol levels tested, particularly if any of the following applies:

  • You have been diagnosed with coronary heart disease
  • A close family member has a cholesterol condition
  • You are overweight/obese
  • You have high blood pressure or diabetes
  • You have had a stroke, a mini stroke or peripheral arterial disease
  • You are over the age of 40

If you fall into the categories mentioned or are concerned about any impact your family history or your lifestyle may have on your cholesterol level, ask your GP for advice

Sources used in writing this article are available on request

Information contained in this Articles page has been written by talkhealth based on available medical evidence. Our evidence based articles are accredited by the PIF TICK, the only UK quality mark for trustworthy health information. The content however should never be considered a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek medical advice before changing your treatment routine. talkhealth does not endorse any specific products, brands or treatments.

The Information Standard

Information written by the talkhealth team

Last revised: 15 October 2018
Next review: 15 July 2022