Cholesterol is a waxy, fatty substance made in the liver and found in all of your body’s cells.
We all need some cholesterol in our bodies to make hormones, vitamin D and substances that help us digest food, but too much of it can clog up our arteries and lead to health problems.
It is easy to keep your cholesterol levels under control by using a simple at-home cholesterol test and making positive lifestyle changes.
Why do we need cholesterol?
As outlined above, cholesterol plays a considerable part in how our bodies work.
Every cell in your body contains cholesterol, but it is essential in the areas of your brain, nerves and skin.
Cholesterol has three vital uses in our bodies:
- It is part of the outer layer of all of our bodies’ cells
- It is used to make Vitamin D and steroid hormones which are used to keep our bones, muscles and teeth healthy
- It is used in making bile to help us digest the fats that we eat
Where in our bodies is cholesterol made?
Cholesterol can be found in foods from animals, such as cheese, egg yolks and meat – but this only makes up about 20% of what our bodies need.
The other 80% is made in our livers in a very complex process.
Cholesterol and triglycerides (another type of blood fat) cannot circulate freely in our blood, so our livers package them into parcels called lipoproteins. These lipoproteins are released into the blood, which carries them around the body to the areas where they are needed.
There are three main types of lipoproteins:
- HDL (high-density lipoproteins) – sometimes called good cholesterol as they carry cholesterol from the rest of your body back to the liver, where it is removed
- LDL (low-density lipoproteins) – sometimes called bad cholesterol as a high level of this can lead to a buildup of plaque in your arteries
- VLDL (very low-density lipoproteins) – can also contribute to a buildup of plaque in your arteries
Once the cholesterol has entered your bloodstream, some of it will be returned to the liver and broken down. Cholesterol is used to make bile acid that helps us with digestion by breaking down the fats in our foods. Most of this is absorbed back into the blood and returned to the liver to be used for digestion, but a small amount will be removed from the body as a waste product (in your poo).
Some high cholesterol treatments prevent bile from being absorbed back into the blood, meaning the liver then has to take more cholesterol from your blood to make more bile, which will bring your cholesterol levels down.
What can cause cholesterol levels to rise?
Cholesterol levels can rise for a variety of reasons, including:
- eating a diet high in saturated fats
- not getting enough exercise, so your body is not using the fats you eat for energy
- a genetic condition causes your body not to process fat in the usual way
Why should I test my cholesterol levels?
If you have high cholesterol levels, you are at a higher risk of heart attack or stroke. So, taking an at-home cholesterol level test can help you determine how high your cholesterol levels are and if you need to, consult a medical professional for help.