What is cholesterol?

What is cholesterol?

Lots of us have heard about cholesterol, and we know that too much of it is bad for our hearts – but do we really know what it is, why it matters – or what to actually do about it.

If you feel like you sort of know about cholesterol but aren’t precisely sure, this is the article for you. We answer all the cholesterol questions you didn’t even know you had.

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a fatty substance in your blood that helps your body build cells, digest food, and make hormones and vitamin D. It gets a bad press, but it’s actually necessary to keep you functioning!

Where does cholesterol come from?

Your liver makes the cholesterol your body needs, but you can also get cholesterol from the food you eat – like eggs, shellfish, meat and dairy products.

What does it mean if you’ve got ‘high’ cholesterol?

Although cholesterol helps your body work properly, too much of it can build up to clog your arteries, slow down blood flow or block it altogether.

High cholesterol can lead to heart and circulatory diseases, including strokes and heart attacks.

Do I have to cut down on cholesterol in my food?

Most people don’t need to cut down on things like eggs or shellfish – it’s much more important to think about how much saturated fat you’re eating.

Saturated fats affect how your liver handles cholesterol, and can raise your blood cholesterol levels. That’s why you’re always being encouraged to eat non-saturated or ‘good’ fats instead of ‘bad’ fats.

What’s the difference between saturated fat and non-saturated fat?

Saturated fats can be found in fatty cuts of meat, sausages, pies, cheese, cream, ice cream, chocolates, biscuits and cakes.

Unsaturated fats can be found in things like oily fish, avocados, and nuts.

Can you have low cholesterol?

It is possible for your cholesterol levels to be too low, but it’s much less common than high cholesterol.

Who’s likely to have high cholesterol?

There’s no way of telling just by looking at somebody. Anyone can have high cholesterol, even if they’re young, slim and generally healthy. High cholesterol can be caused by lifestyle, for instance eating too much and moving too little, smoking and drinking. However, it can also be genetic, so if heart disease runs in your family it’s really important to know, and to get checked out.

What are the symptoms of high cholesterol?

You can’t feel it – the only way to really tell is to get a test.

What is a cholesterol test?

Cholesterol can be checked using a simple blood test. Often it’s just a finger prick test.

How do I get a cholesterol test?

You can ask your GP for a cholesterol blood test. Equipsme members with Level 1 and Level 2 cover or on Solo or Solo Plus plans can get an annual cholesterol finger-prick test to do at home, through our health check partners Thriva.

Thriva will have emailed you to order a test when your plan started. If you missed it, just email us at members@equipsme.com and we’ll sort it out for you.

Thriva will send you your pack through the post, with full instructions to help you do your finger-prick test from the comfort of your own home. You then pack it up, send it back through the post - and wait about a week for your results to come back.

It’s quick, it’s easy, it’s convenient, and it really can help you stay healthy.

What do the results look like – and what do they mean?

Your results will include a Total Cholesterol level or TC – but that’s not the whole picture. Your test will also show HDL and non-HDL levels.

HDL stands for high-density lipoprotein. LDL stands for low-density lipoprotein.

Your HDL cholesterol is the ‘good’ cholesterol that helps clear your arteries by taking excess cholesterol back to the liver, while the LDL is the ‘bad’ stuff that can clog them up. It’s important to have the right amounts of each in your system.

Men and women will have different target levels, as will those people with other conditions like heart disease or diabetes. Your Doctor will help you interpret your results, or if you’re doing your test through Thriva, they’ll explain them alongside any next steps you need to take.

What happens if I DO have high cholesterol?

You can lower your cholesterol by eating healthily, cutting saturated or ‘bad’ fats out of your diet, and getting more exercise. It’s also important to try and cut down how much you smoke and drink.

Some people will also need to take medicine. Statins are the most common medicine for high cholesterol, and work by reducing the amount of cholesterol your body makes. You’ll usually need to take them for life.

What do I do if I’ve still got cholesterol questions?

Find out more about cholesterol on the NHS website.
Find out more about cholesterol on the Heart UK website.
Or talk to your own GP, or make an appointment with Equipsme’s 24/7 GPs for a chat.