Cholesterol is naturally produced by the liver for a reason – we need a certain amount of it in the body. It can also be found in some foods. However, high blood cholesterol is one of a number of risk factors for heart disease* so it should be lowered.
Low cholesterol levels explained: “Good” cholesterol and “bad” cholesterol
Cholesterol is not “bad” in itself, as it’s naturally produced to protect the cells in the body as a component of cell membranes. It’s also a precursor of essential substances like hormones and bile acids.
However, cholesterol has to be carried through the bloodstream by lipoproteins. There are two important varieties when we talk about heart health: low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL):
LDL-cholesterol can deposit cholesterol on the walls of the arteries (blood vessels) when there is too much of it, and the build upcan clog up and narrow the arteries. That makes high blood cholesterol a risk factor for heart disease*, and is the reason why LDL-cholesterol is often called “bad” cholesterol.
HDL-cholesterol , on the other hand, can act in a positive way – carrying cholesterol away from the blood and depositing it in the liver, which breaks the cholesterol down or is passed out of the body as waste.
Your doctor may talk about non-HDL cholesterol. This is because LDL was previously used as the main measure of bad cholesterol, and is still a good indicator, but we now know that other forms of non-HDL cholesterol are also harmful.
If your total cholesterol is high, it can mean that you have a lot of bad LDL cholesterol in your blood. A low level of LDL-cholesterol is good news. On the other hand, HDL-cholesterol should be above a certain level, so that it can continue to help the body remove excess cholesterol.
What is a low cholesterol level, and what is the recommended level?
Around half of all adults in the UK are estimated to have have elevated cholesterol levels, so it’s important to get tested and take steps to lower yours if needed.
As a general guide, the NHS advises that healthy adults should aim for a total cholesterol of 5mmol/L or less (and 4mmol/L or less for those at higher risk of heart disease), and that your LDL-cholesterol level should be:
- 3mmol/L or less for healthy adults
- 2mmol/L or less for those at higher risk of heart disease
The NHS also indicates an healthy level of HDL is above 1mmol/L.
Doctors can use your cholesterol measurements to assess your risk of developing heart and circulatory disease Risk factors depend on your individual age, lifestyle and family history, It’s always advisable to consult a healthcare professional if you are concerned about elevated cholesterol levels.
Lowering cholesterol with Flora ProActiv
If you want to lower your cholesterol levels, foods containing plant sterols (like those in the Flora ProActiv range) can help. Eating between 1.5g and 2.4g of plant sterols each day can reduce LDL-cholesterol by 7-10% in two to three weeks**.
Importantly, studies indicate that plant sterols do not affect the body’s HDL-cholesterol levels, so if you eat them, you won’t be lowering the “good” cholesterol at the same time.
Other tips for a heart healthy diet and lifestyle
As well as eating plant sterols, there are other positive steps you can take to change your diet and lifestyle to reduce your cholesterol . For example limiting the amount of saturated fat that you eat and replacing this with some unsaturated fats can lower cholesterol levels. Check out our handy guide on how to lower cholesterol for tips, or download the free Flora ProActiv starter kit here. However, cholesterol is only one risk factor for heart disease. Eating a healthy balanced diet, maintaining a healthy weight and ensuring you get regular exercise are important ways to look after your overall heart health.
* High cholesterol is a risk factor in the development of coronary heart disease. There are many risk factors for coronary heart disease and it is important to take care of all of them to reduce the overall risk of it.
***Replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats in the diet has been shown to lower blood cholesterol. High cholesterol is a risk factor in the development of coronary heart disease. There are many risk factors for coronary heart disease and it is important to take care of all of them to reduce the overall risk of it.
BNF suggested references:
- NHS Digital (2018). High cholesterol. (accessed 20/05/2019)
- British Nutrition Foundation (2019). CARDIOVASCULAR DISEASE: Diet, Nutrition and Emerging Risk Factors, 2nd Edition. Wiley Blackwell.
- National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). Clinical Knowledge Summaries: Lipid modification – CVD prevention. (accessed 21/05/2019)
- British Heart Foundation (2018). Understanding cholesterol (booklet). (accessed 21/05/2019)
- Commission Regulation (EU) No 686/2014 as 20 June 2014 amending Regulations (EC) No 983/2009 and (EU) No 384/2010 as regards the conditions of use of certain health claims related to the lowering effect of plant sterols and plant stanols on blood LDL-cholesterol. (accessed 20/05/2019)
The British Nutrition Foundation has reviewed the accuracy of the scientific content of this page in May 2019 (please note this does not include linked pages). The Foundation does not endorse any brands or products. For more information about the Foundation, please visit www.nutrition.org.uk
This information has been included in good faith, but is for general informational purposes only, and should not be construed as a guarantee. The nutritional facts and statements on this site are designed for educational and resource purpose sonly, not being substitutes for professional advice. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always check with your GP or healthcare professional.