What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that occurs naturally in the body. It plays a vital role in how every cell works and makes its way around the body in molecules called lipoproteins.

There are two kinds of lipoprotein that are particularly important:-

1. LDL (bad cholesterol)

LDL stands for Low Density Lipoprotein. It is considered the ‘bad’ cholesterol because having high levels can lead to plaque buildup in your arteries, which can result in heart disease.

2. HDL (good cholesterol)

HDL stands for High Density Lipoprotein. It is referred to as ‘good’ cholesterol because experts believe that it carries bad cholesterol away from the arteries, returning it to the liver to be eliminated.

How to check your cholesterol

You can get a free cholesterol test done through the NHS if you are over 40 and/or at high risk. Alternatively you can get it done at Lloyds pharmacy as part of their ‘Cholesterol And Heart Check Service’ (£15).

A blood sample is taken, either using a needle and a syringe or by pricking your finger, that will be used to determine the amount of LDL, HDL and triglycerides (other fatty substances) in your blood.

How to interpret your scores

Use the table below to see where you fit into the UK health guidelines:-


(Note, the figures shown here are based on mmol/L)

What to do if your cholesterol is high

If you fall in any of the ‘High’ or ‘Borderline-high’ bands, it’s important to talk to your doctor or health professional about next steps, especially if you are over 40 years old, smoke and/or have high blood pressure.

If you have high LDL (bad cholesterol) you may be able to lower it without medication, by eating more foods that actively lower cholesterol and reducing the amount of saturated fat in your diet. For more on this, read this post.