Calendar An icon of a desk calendar. Cancel An icon of a circle with a diagonal line across. Caret An icon of a block arrow pointing to the right. Email An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of the Facebook "f" mark. Google An icon of the Google "G" mark. Linked In An icon of the Linked In "in" mark. Logout An icon representing logout. Profile An icon that resembles human head and shoulders. Telephone An icon of a traditional telephone receiver. Tick An icon of a tick mark. Is Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes. Is Not Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes with a diagonal line through it. Pause Icon A two-lined pause icon for stopping interactions. Quote Mark A opening quote mark. Quote Mark A closing quote mark. Arrow An icon of an arrow. Folder An icon of a paper folder. Breaking An icon of an exclamation mark on a circular background. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Caret An icon of a caret arrow. Clock An icon of a clock face. Close An icon of the an X shape. Close Icon An icon used to represent where to interact to collapse or dismiss a component Comment An icon of a speech bubble. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Ellipsis An icon of 3 horizontal dots. Envelope An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Home An icon of a house. Instagram An icon of the Instagram logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. Magnifying Glass An icon of a magnifying glass. Search Icon A magnifying glass icon that is used to represent the function of searching. Menu An icon of 3 horizontal lines. Hamburger Menu Icon An icon used to represent a collapsed menu. Next An icon of an arrow pointing to the right. Notice An explanation mark centred inside a circle. Previous An icon of an arrow pointing to the left. Rating An icon of a star. Tag An icon of a tag. Twitter An icon of the Twitter logo. Video Camera An icon of a video camera shape. Speech Bubble Icon A icon displaying a speech bubble WhatsApp An icon of the WhatsApp logo. Information An icon of an information logo. Plus A mathematical 'plus' symbol. Duration An icon indicating Time. Success Tick An icon of a green tick. Success Tick Timeout An icon of a greyed out success tick. Loading Spinner An icon of a loading spinner.

Health: Nearly half of us have cholesterol levels higher than recommended: 4 ways to lower yours

A heart-healthy diet is one way to combat high cholesterol.
A heart-healthy diet is one way to combat high cholesterol.

If you’ve got raised cholesterol, the first symptom you get could be a heart attack or stroke.

That’s the scary reality of this fatty substance in our blood, which we actually need to stay healthy, because every cell in our body uses it. But too much of it can lead to a higher risk of cardiovascular problems, such as heart attacks and strokes.

The British Heart Foundation ( estimates that close to half of UK adults have cholesterol levels above national guidelines (total cholesterol greater than 5mmol/L), yet new research by Novartis Pharmaceuticals shows more than three-quarters (77%) of people don’t know what a good cholesterol level is in a healthy adult, and only 6% know the NHS recommends people aged over 40 should get their cholesterol levels checked every five years.

“Two out of every five people have raised cholesterol,” says GP Dr Sarah Jarvis. “Many are living with a ticking time bomb without knowing it, and don’t realise how vital cholesterol is to heart health.

“Too much cholesterol in your blood can clog your arteries and lead to heart attack and stroke. Yet if people don’t have chest pain or palpitations and feel fine, they often assume they have nothing to worry about.

“But raised cholesterol very rarely causes any signs. That means people don’t know they have it, or even start thinking about their levels, until they have a serious health issue such as a heart attack.”

GP Dr Sarah Jarvis.

There are two main types of cholesterol – high-density lipoproteins (HDL) is “good” cholesterol, because it gets rid of the “bad” non-high-density lipoproteins (non-HDL) cholesterol from your blood, taking cholesterol you don’t need back to the liver, where it’s broken down.

Non-HDL cholesterol is “bad” because it can build up inside blood vessel walls, causing narrowing of the arteries, which increases the risk of heart attacks or strokes. The BHF says non-HDL cholesterol is associated with one in four heart and circulatory disease deaths.

Cholesterol is produced naturally in the liver, and some comes from what we eat. The cholesterol charity Heart UK ( says high cholesterol can be caused by many things, including lifestyle and health problems, plus some factors that we can’t control, such as age – high cholesterol is more likely as you get older; gender – men are more likely to have high cholesterol; and family history – around one in 250 people have familial hypercholesterolaemia (FH), an inherited condition where cholesterol levels are higher than normal from birth.

Jules Payne, chief executive of Heart UK, says: “Most people will understand that lower cholesterol levels are likely to be good for our heart health. However, what’s less well known is that a number of different factors can lead to high cholesterol. While there’s not a lot you can do about things like family history, age and gender, there are ways for people to lower and manage their levels. Making simple changes to lifestyle can keep your cholesterol levels and heart healthier.”

Chief executive of Heart UK, Jules Payne.

Here’s what you can do to help lower your cholesterol.

Eat a heart-healthy diet

Heart UK recommends you cut down on saturated fats and replace some with unsaturated fats – vegetable oils, such as rapeseed and olive oils, and nuts, seeds and avocados are good sources. Switch to wholegrain foods, like wholegrain bread and pasta, instead of white bread and pasta, and eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables every day.

Choose healthy sources of protein, such as low-fat dairy foods instead of full-fat varieties, and chicken, beans, fish, nuts and seeds instead of red meat. If red meat is eaten, go for lean meat. Try and eat two portions of fish a week, with at least one being oily, like salmon, sardines and mackerel.

A heart-healthy diet can help to reduce levels of cholesterol in your blood.

Eat fewer processed foods such as biscuits, cakes and pastries, as these can be high in saturated fat, and choose foods fortified with sterols and stanols, such as spreads and dairy products, as these can help to decrease the levels of cholesterol in your blood.

Get active

Being active is an important part of looking after your cholesterol levels – Heart UK says exercise can help raise HDL cholesterol levels and lower non-HDL cholesterol, as well as helping you lose weight or stay a healthy weight.

The NHS recommends adults should aim to do at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity or 75 minutes of intense activity every week. “Simple measures that can be taken, such as adding another hour or two to weekly exercise, can make a huge difference.”

Being active can play an important role in looking after your cholesterol levels.

Stop smoking

Heart UK says smoking makes non-HDL cholesterol “stickier”, so it clings to artery walls and clogs them up, and it lowers levels of “good” HDL cholesterol.

Smoking also damages artery walls, leading to cholesterol collecting in the damaged areas.

Take medication like statins

Lifestyle changes alone may not be enough to reduce cholesterol, and if you have raised levels you may be prescribed medication, usually statins, which Heart UK says can reduce your non-HDL cholesterol by 30%-50%.

Statins may help reduce cholesterol levels whether they’re raised because of your lifestyle or by genetic conditions like FH.

Already a subscriber? Sign in





Please enter the name you would like to appear on your comments. (It doesn’t have to be your real name - but nothing rude please, we are a polite bunch!) Use a combination of eight or more characters that includes an upper and lower case character, and a number.

By registering with [[site_name]] you agree to our Terms and Conditions and our Privacy Policy

Or sign up with

Facebook Google



Or login with

Forgotten your password? Reset it