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What is a high cholesterol and how can we improve it?

Discovering you have a high cholesterol may be a shock for some, whilst others might put it down to age and lifestyle choices. But do we really understand what cholesterol is and what having a high cholesterol means? LighterLife’s head of nutrition and research, Dr Kelly Johnston explains what cholesterol is and how we can improve it.

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a type of fatty substance that’s found in our blood. Some of it comes from the food we eat and some of it is produced naturally in the liver. Despite some of the negative things you may hear about cholesterol, we do actually need it to stay healthy – every single cell in our body needs it to function properly.

Everyone has cholesterol, although how much, and of what type varies significantly based on diet, lifestyle and genetic factors. There are two main types of cholesterol, one good and the other bad. Having too much ‘bad’ cholesterol is often described as ‘high cholesterol’ and can cause problems with your health including increased risk of heart and circulatory diseases such as heart attack and stroke, and vascular dementia.

Cholesterol is carried in your blood by proteins and when cholesterol and proteins combine, they’re called lipoproteins. High-density lipoproteins or HDL is known as ‘good’ cholesterol and this is because it helps your body get rid of the ‘bad’ cholesterol from your blood, by taking back cholesterol that you don’t need back to the liver, where it’s broken down and excreted.

Low density lipoproteins or LDL is generally referred to as ‘bad’ cholesterol because when there’s too much of it, it can build up inside the walls of the blood vessels, causing them to clog up and narrow, which increases your risk of having a heart attack or stroke. Bad cholesterol isn’t just LDL though – there are other forms of non-HDL cholesterol which are also harmful.

What does it mean to have a high cholesterol?

If your total cholesterol is considered high, it often means that you have a lot of bad (non-HDL) cholesterol in your blood although a high level of good (HDL) cholesterol can help keep that bad cholesterol in check and remove it from your body.

There is no specific target cholesterol level for anyone person because it’s the overall ration between the good and bad that matter, and your overall risk of developing heart and circulatory diseases which includes factors other than cholesterol levels.

How can you improve your cholesterol?

Whilst there is clear evidence that cholesterol levels are likely to be higher if you are overweight, some slim people can also have high cholesterol too. Genetics and diet also play a big role is this. The good news is though that losing weight is an exceptionally effective way to improve your lipid profile and if you have high cholesterol levels, these will very likely move in a downward fashion. When you’re on a very low-calorie diet like TotalFast your levels of all blood lipids – cholesterol and triglycerides – will drop over time and remain lower as long as you maintain your loss and eat a balanced diet.

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