Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

What is cholesterol?

3-minute read

Cholesterol is a fat-like substance in the body. It is produced by your body and also found in food. While it is needed for good health, too much cholesterol can damage your arteries and increase your risk of heart disease.

Why is cholesterol essential?

Your body needs some cholesterol to work properly. For example, cholesterol is used to build cell walls and produce some hormones.

Understanding cholesterol

About 75% of the cholesterol in your body is produced by your liver; the rest comes from the food you eat.

Cholesterol is carried in the blood by lipoproteins. The main types of lipoproteins are high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL).

HDL cholesterol is known as 'good' cholesterol. This is because HDL helps to remove cholesterol from your arteries by carrying cholesterol back to your liver for disposal.

LDL cholesterol is known as 'bad' cholesterol. This is because LDL leaves cholesterol in your arteries.

The total cholesterol test is a blood test that measures both HDL and LDL cholesterol. Your doctor may test your cholesterol level to help find out your risk of heart disease or stroke. Other risk factors such as high blood pressure, obesity, type 2 diabetes and smoking also need to be considered.

Triglycerides are a type of fat in your blood, which can also increase your risk of heart disease.

Triglycerides are usually tested along with cholesterol when you have a cholesterol blood test. The tests for total cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and triglycerides are known as a lipid profile.

Why is high cholesterol bad for health?

Although some cholesterol is needed for your body to function, too much cholesterol can lead to health problems. The extra LDL-cholesterol build up in the walls of the arteries, forming plaques. Plaques can block your arteries, making it harder for blood to flow through.

illustration of a blocked artery
Excess cholesterol in the blood can stick to the walls of your arteries. This is called plaque and can narrow or block arteries completely.

Lowering cholesterol and maintaining good health

If your cholesterol level is high, there are a number of things you do to lower your cholesterol level.

You can reduce the amount of saturated fat in your food and have a healthy diet. Foods high in saturated fat include:

  • cakes and biscuits
  • fatty cuts of meat
  • butter and full-fat dairy products
  • foods containing coconut or palm oil.

Having a high-fibre diet and eating foods enriched with plant sterols can also help to lower your cholesterol level.

If you are not physically active, increasing your physical activity can help to reduce your cholesterol level. Increasing physical activity combined with healthy eating can also help you lose weight if you are overweight and improve your heart health.

If these lifestyle changes are not enough to reduce your cholesterol level, your doctor may advise you to also take cholesterol-lowering medicines.

Last reviewed: June 2017

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Cholesterol tests - myDr.com.au

Abnormally high cholesterol levels may not give you any symptoms, so a blood test is the best way to check whether you have high cholesterol.

Read more on myDr website

Cholesterol Testing | myVMC

A cholesterol test is a simple blood test carried out to measure the levels of these two cholesterol types in the blood, and the levels of triglycerides, another lipid found in the blood.

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Cholesterol

Cholesterol People with diabetes generally have similar total cholesterol levels and similar rates of the 'good' (HDL) cholesterol as the general population

Read more on Diabetes Australia website

Cholesterol

Cholesterol People with diabetes generally have similar total cholesterol levels and similar rates of the 'good' (HDL) cholesterol as the general population

Read more on Diabetes Australia website

Cholesterol

Your body needs cholesterol, but it can make its own. You don't need cholesterol in your diet.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Measures of Nutrition and Weight | myVMC

There are many ways that the nutritional value of food can be measured, including by glycaemic index and glycaemic load. The effect of food on the body can also be measured by such tools as the body mass index and blood cholesterol testing.

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Cholesterol | myVMC

There are two major types of cholesterol found in the blood: low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, sometimes referred to as 'bad' cholesterol, and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, or 'good' cholesterol.

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

High cholesterol

Cholesterol is a fatty substance produced naturally by your body and found in your blood. You can also get cholesterol from some foods. It is used for many different things in the body, but causes health problems when there is too much of it in the blood.

Read more on WA Health website

Genetic factors and cholesterol

Cholesterol is an essential component of cell membranes and is needed for many bodily functions, such as the production of hormones. It is produced when foods containing oil and fat are digested. It is also produced in the liver.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Statins (cholesterol lowering medications) information | myVMC

Statins are a class of lipid-lowering drugs used to treat hypercholesterolaemia, in which there are high levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol in the blood.

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo