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How is high cholesterol treated?

Making significant changes to your diet and lifestyle can help bring your cholesterol levels down but in some cases, medication may be needed to help reduce your levels.

Dietary changes

Eating a diet high in saturated fat and salt can increase levels of bad cholesterol, so you should aim to reduce your intake of both of these. Instead, eat a healthy diet, including:

  • fruit
  • vegetables
  • wholegrains
  • oats
  • lean sources of protein, which are grilled, steamed or roasted rather than fried
  • legumes
  • tofu
  • unsalted nuts, including peanuts, cashews, almonds and walnuts
  • seeds
  • avocado
  • oily fish

Heart UK have more information on the kinds of foods you can eat to help lower your cholesterol levels here.

High cholesterol foods to avoid include those that have saturated fat. This is found in:

  • lard, butter, hard margarines or ghee
  • full fat cheese, milk and cream
  • fatty cuts of meat
  • processed foods, such as bacon and sausages
  • coconut oil and cream
  • palm oil
  • milk chocolate
  • cakes, biscuits and other sweet treats

Lifestyle changes

You can help to reduce your cholesterol by making certain lifestyle changes. This includes:

  • quitting smoking - smoking stops your good cholesterol from doing its job of removing bad cholesterol. If you stop smoking, then your heart should become stronger and you will be less at risk of developing heart disease.
  • losing any excess weight that you have
  • only consuming alcohol in moderation
  • getting regular exercise to strengthen your heart, increase your levels of good cholesterol and help your body get rid of bad cholesterol.

Medication

If you have adjusted your diet and lifestyle, but your cholesterol levels are still raised, a doctor may prescribe high cholesterol medications if you’re at risk of developing heart disease.

The medications that are recommended may be different from one person to the next. Your age, risk factors and your current health will all play a part in finding the right medicine for you. They can include:

  • Statins - these work by blocking an enzyme, which is a substance that your liver requires, in order to make cholesterol. The liver continues to remove cholesterol from your blood, but reduces the amount you produce. The statins can also help your body break down cholesterol deposits that may have built up in your arteries.

    Statins can have side effects, which a doctor will explain before you are prescribed anything. They are not suitable for young children, pregnant or breastfeeding women, or women who are trying to conceive.
  • Selective cholesterol absorption inhibitors - this class of drugs work by blocking your body's absorption of dietary cholesterol. This may or may not be used in conjunction with statins. It can have side effects, which a doctor will explain before you are prescribed anything.

Other medications are available. A GP will be able to advise on the most suitable one for you.

What happens if high cholesterol is left untreated?

If high cholesterol isn’t treated, your risk of developing heart disease or having a stroke increase.

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