Cholesterol is a fatty substance that is found in every cell in your body. It doesn’t just come from the food we eat but is also made by the liver. Whilst the body needs some of this fat, too much can be harmful and can lead to heart attacks and strokes.
People usually only find out that they’ve got high cholesterol when they have a blood test or when develop symptoms of heart disease. Sometimes, yellow patches (called xanthomas) may develop around your eyes or elsewhere on your skin. These are cholesterol deposits and may indicate high cholesterol.
Blood cholesterol is measured in units called millimoles per litre of blood, often shortened to mmol/L. There are 2 components of cholesterol. LDL carries cholesterol from your liver to the cells that need it. If there is too much cholesterol for the cells to use, it can build up in the artery walls, leading to disease of the arteries, hence the name “bad cholesterol”.HDL carries cholesterol away from the cells and back to the liver, where it is either broken down or passed out of the body as a waste product. For this reason, it is referred to as "good cholesterol" and higher levels are better. A good ‘ball park figure’ to aim for is to keep total cholesterol levels at 5mmol/L or less, with levels of LDL cholesterol being 3mmol/L or less.
The first step in reducing cholesterol is to maintain a healthy, balanced diet and increase your exercise levels. If these measures don’t help, or if your cholesterol level is particularly high, there are medications which will. These include cholesterol-lowering medications such as statins or a medication that blocks the absorption of cholesterol from food. Newer immunotherapeutic agents are currently being evaluated in trials, they look promising and may become available in the next year or so.