What is high cholesterol and how can you decrease it?

Affinity Health examines the dangers of high cholesterol and how to decrease risks of unhealthy cholesterol.

What is cholesterol?

The Heart and Stroke Foundation of South Africa defines cholesterol as a soft, fatty substance found in the blood that plays a critical role in cell membranes. It also produces many hormones, and aids bile digestion. The liver produces most of the cholesterol in the body, which is then transported to the rest of the body via the blood.

Good versus bad

Cholesterol is divided up into two different types:high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL).

HDL – Known as “good” cholesterol, HDL helps to carry cholesterol to your liver. As a digestive powerhouse, the liver processes excess cholesterol to be removed from the body.

LDL – Known as “bad” cholesterol, LDL carries cholesterol to the arteries. Rather than being removed from the body, excess cholesterol collects along the walls of arteries. This causes a dangerous build-up of cholesterol and other deposits on your artery walls (atherosclerosis).

These LDL deposits (plaques) can reduce blood flow through your arteries, causing problems such as:

Chest discomfort

You may experience chest pain (angina) and other symptoms of coronary artery disease if the arteries that supply blood to your heart (coronary arteries) are affected.

A heart attack

When plaque tears or ruptures, a blood clot can form at the site of the rupture, blocking blood flow or breaking free and plugging an artery, resulting in a heart attack.


A stroke can occur when a blood clot blocks blood flow to a part of your brain, similar to a heart attack.

What causes high cholesterol?

An unhealthy lifestyle is the most common cause of high cholesterol. “Unhealthy eating habits, such as consuming too many unhealthy fats, can cause your LDL to rise. Lack of physical activity, excess weight or obesity and smoking is problematic. Underlying health conditions, such as diabetes and thyroid conditions, can also raise bad cholesterol levels,” says Murray Hewlett, CEO of Affinity Health.

“High cholesterol does not always manifest itself in the form of symptoms. That means the only way to know for sure if your levels are too high is to check them with your doctor. A cholesterol test is a simple blood test that checks the levels of HDL, LDL, and triglycerides.”

How is a cholesterol test done?

A rapid test involves a droplet of blood being placed on a specialised strip of paper to measure the amount of cholesterol in the blood.

When you have a test done, also known as a lipid panel, the ideal levels or measurements are:

  • HDL: Above 55 mg/dL for women | Above 45 mg/dL for men
  • LDL: Below 130 mg/dL
  • Triglycerides: Below 150 mg/dL

If you’re concerned about your levels, you should get it checked.

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