Cholesterol is a waxy substance that your liver produces naturally. As the British Heart Foundation (BHF) explains, it is needed to stay healthy because every cell in our body uses it. However, having “high cholesterol” means you have a lot of LDL cholesterol in your blood. LDL cholesterol collects on the inside of your arteries, thereby raising your risk of heart disease and stroke.
Unfortunately, there are usually no symptoms associated with high cholesterol that can alert you to the condition.
However, some people are genetically predisposed to developing high cholesterol levels and people with this condition may experience symptoms of high cholesterol.
Familial hypercholesterolemia (FH) is a common life-threatening genetic condition that causes high cholesterol.
“Sometimes there are visible signs of FH, especially when the LDL-cholesterol is very high,” explains the FH Foundation, a patient-centred nonprofit organisation devoted to research, advocacy, and education of familial FH.
“Blood cholesterol levels are measured using a simple blood test,” explains the BHF.
The health body continues: “Your GP or practice nurse will take a blood sample, usually by pricking your finger or you might be asked to go for a blood test at your local hospital.
Your blood is then checked for levels of good (HDL) cholesterol, bad (non-HDL) cholesterol and triglycerides, as well as getting a total cholesterol result.”
HDL cholesterol is commonly branded the “good” cholesterol because it counters the harmful effects of LDL cholesterol.
Triglycerides are another type of fat (lipid) found in your blood.
Following a formal diagnosis of high cholesterol, it is vital to take steps to reduce the amount you have in your blood.
Adopting healthy habits, such as improving your diet, can lower harmful cholesterol levels.
“If your GP has advised you to change your diet to reduce your blood cholesterol, you should cut down on saturated fat and eat more fibre, including plenty of fruit and vegetables,” advises the NHS.
Foods high in saturated fat include:
- Meat pies
- Sausages and fatty cuts of meat
- Butter, ghee and lard
Eating too many foods high in saturated fat can raise the level of cholesterol in your blood.
However, as the NHS explains, eating foods that contain unsaturated fat instead of saturated fat can actually help reduce cholesterol levels.
Many of these components are naturally found in a Mediterranean-style diet, which generally consists of vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, beans, cereals, grains, fish, and unsaturated fats such as olive oil.