High cholesterol in older people

What is cholesterol and how does it affect older people?

Cholesterol is a fatty substance which is found in the blood

It is mainly made in the body. Cholesterol plays an essential role in how every cell in the body works

However, too much cholesterol in the blood can increase your risk of heart problems

LDL cholesterol and HDL cholesterol

Cholesterol is carried around the body by proteins. These combinations of cholesterol and proteins are called lipoproteins. There are two main types of lipoproteins:

– LDL (low-density lipoprotein) is the harmful type of cholesterol

– HDL (high-density lipoprotein) is a protective type of cholesterol

Having too much harmful LDL cholesterol in your blood can increase your risk of getting cardiovascular disease

The risk is particularly high if you have a high level of LDL cholesterol and a low level of HDL cholesterol

Triglycerides are another type of fatty substance in the blood. They’re found in foods such as dairy products, meat and cooking oils

They can also be produced in the body, either by the body’s fat stores, or in the liver

People who are very overweight, eat a lot of fatty and sugary foods, or drink too much alcohol are more likely to have a high triglyceride level

People with high triglyceride levels have a greater risk of developing cardiovascular disease than people with lower levels

What causes high cholesterol?

A common cause of high blood cholesterol levels is eating too much saturated fat

However, some people have high blood cholesterol even though they eat a healthy diet. For example, they may have inherited a condition called familial hyperlipidaemia (FH)

The cholesterol which is found in some foods such as eggs, liver, kidneys and some types of seafood eg. prawns, does not usually make a great contribution to the level of cholesterol in your blood. It’s much more important that you eat foods that are low in saturated fat

How can I reduce my cholesterol level?

Cut down on saturated fats. To help reduce your cholesterol level, you need to cut down on saturated fats and instead use unsaturated fats such as olive, rapeseed, or sunflower oils and spreads. You should also reduce the total amount of fat you eat

Eat oily fish regularly. Oily fish provides the richest source of a particular type of polyunsaturated fat known as Omega-3. Omega-3 from oily fish can help to lower blood triglyceride levels and help to prevent the blood from clotting and can also help to regulate the heart rhythm

Eat a high-fibre diet. Foods that are high in soluble fibre such as oats, beans, pulses, lentils, nuts, fruits and vegetables, can help lower cholesterol

Do regular physical activity. This can help increase your HDL cholesterol (the ‘protective’ type of cholesterol)

There is evidence to show that substances called plant sterols and stanols may help reduce cholesterol levels when 2g per day is regularly consumed. They are added to certain foods including margarines, spreads, soft cheeses and yoghurts

However, if you have been told by your doctor that you need to reduce your cholesterol levels, you can do this through changing your diet without using special products. If you decide to use these products you should follow the manufacturer’s instructions on the amounts needed to provide you with 2g a day. Remember they are not a substitute for a heart healthy diet, or a replacement for cholesterol lowering drugs


For most people, there is currently no limit on the number of eggs that you can eat in a week. However, because the recommendation has changed over the years, it’s often a common source of confusion

In the past a restriction on eggs was recommended, because we thought that foods high in cholesterol (including liver, kidneys and shellfish, as well as eggs) could have an impact on cholesterol levels in the body

However, as research in this area has developed, so has our understanding of how foods that contain cholesterol affect people’s heart health

For most people, the amount of saturated fat they eat has much more of an impact on their cholesterol than eating foods that contain cholesterol, like eggs and shellfish

So unless you have been advised otherwise by your doctor or dietician, if you like eggs, they can be included as part of a balanced and varied diet

Whether you need to take cholesterol-lowering drugs or not depends not just on your total cholesterol, HDL and LDL levels, but also on your overall risk of cardiovascular disease

Cholesterol-lowering medicines, such as statins, are prescribed for people who are at greatest overall risk of suffering from cardiovascular disease




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