Over half of UK adults have raised cholesterol levels, according to the cholesterol charity Heart UK. 

Known as ‘the silent killer’ for good reason, the symptoms for high cholesterol are hard to pinpoint, meaning a heart attack might be the first sign that something is wrong.

As October is National Cholesterol Month, here’s our guide to all things cholesterol-related – including what it is, and what you can do to lower yours.

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a waxy, fatty substance. It’s mainly made in the liver but can also be found in certain foods.

Is it good for me?

Sometimes. The appropriately named ‘good cholesterol’ (high density lipoprotein cholesterol, or HDL) protects your body by removing excess cholesterol from your blood to your liver, where it is removed from your body. It also supports the membranes in cells.

So what is bad cholesterol?

High levels of ‘bad cholesterol’ – or to give it its full name, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) – can collect in the walls of your blood vessels, causing blockages and narrowing your artery walls. This can put you at greater risk of cardiovascular problems, including heart disease and strokes.

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How can I test my cholesterol?

A blood test can measure your levels of good and bad cholesterol. Your GP might suggest a test if you’re diabetic or have high blood pressure, or if you’ve had heart disease, a stroke, family history of heart disease or a cholesterol-related illness (Familial Hypercholesterolaemia).

What lifestyle factors can cause high cholesterol?

Smoking, an unhealthy diet and a lack of physical activity can lead to higher levels of cholesterol.

[Related story: 6 surprising cholesterol-busting foods]

What are the danger signs of high cholesterol?

The problem is that there are no obvious symptoms for high cholesterol: strokes and heart attacks are sometimes the first sign that something is awry.  In some cases, pain on walking can flag up high cholesterol – as it may be caused by a blockage to an artery that feeds the big muscles.

What can I do to lower my cholesterol?

Experts suggest cutting down on the amount of fatty food you eat – so opt for leaner cuts of meat, grilling rather than frying meat, and limit your biscuit and cake intake.

Also try including more fruit and veg in your diet, taking regular exercise and giving up smoking. Your doctor might also suggest taking statins to lower your cholesterol levels. And it can help to know your family’s medical history, too.

Where can I go for more information?

Check out the websites of the British Heart Foundation and cholesterol charity Heart UK.

How do you keep your cholesterol levels low? Share you tips with others in the Comments section below.