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Cholesterol Learning Center


What is Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is soft, fat-like, waxy substance found your blood and in every cell in your body.

Cholesterol is an important part of a healthy body because it plays a vital role in many biochemical processes, such as the production of cell membranes and the synthesis of steroid hormones, as well as serving other necessary functions. Cholesterol does not dissolve in your blood, rather, it must be transported to and from your cells via a carrier. This carrier is called a lipoprotein.

Total cholesterol count, measured by a blood test, is made up of 4 things:

  1. Low Density Lipoprotein (“LDL”) cholesterol – LDL is called “bad” cholesterol because it carries cholesterol to tissues, including the arteries. Most of the cholesterol in the blood is the LDL form. Therefore, the higher the level of LDL cholesterol in the blood, the greater your risk for heart disease.
  2. High Density Lipoprotein (“HDL”) cholesterol – HDL is called “good” cholesterol because it carries cholesterol from tissues to the liver, which removes it from the body. A low level of HDL cholesterol increases your risk for heart disease.
  3. Triglycerides – Triglycerides are another type of fat. The body produces triglycerides in the liver; and they are found in the blood and in foods.
  4. Lp(a) cholesterol – Although Lp(a) cholesterol is not fully understood yet, it is thought to be another undesirable low density lipoprotein that is part of a propein called apo(a).

Facts About Cholesterol:

  • Every single person has cholesterol, it’s normal!
  • Every cell in your body contains cholesterol!
  • Approximately 75% of your total cholesterol is made in your body. That means only 25% of your total blood cholesterol levels come from your food.
  • Having high blood cholesterol affects over 65 million Americans.
  • It is a serious condition that increases your risk for heart disease.
  • The higher your cholesterol level, the greater the risk.
  • You can have high cholesterol and not know it.
  • Cholesterol levels tend to elevate as you get older.
  • Lowering cholesterol levels that are too high benefits you in the following ways:
    • Lessens your risk for developing heart disease
    • Reduces the chance of having a heart attack
    • Reduces your chances of dying of heart disease

What is Good Cholesterol?

HDL or “high density lipoprotein” cholesterol is what is known as “good” cholesterol. Remember, a low level of HDL blood cholesterol increases your risk for heart disease. HDL cholesterol is good for you in several ways:

  • This good cholesterol helps keep cholesterol from building up in the arteries. Between 25% and 35% of all blood cholesterol is carried by HDL.
  • High levels of HDL seemingly protect against heart attack, whereas low levels of HDL – less than 40 mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter of blood) – increase your risk of heart disease.
  • Generally, the higher your levels of HDL cholesterol are, the lower risk you have for heart disease.
HDL “Good” Blood Cholesterol Levels What These Levels Mean For You
Below 40 mg/dL Bad – High Risk for Heart Disease
40 – 59 mg/dL Lower Risk for Heart Disease
60 mg/dL and above Excellent – this should be your goal

What is Bad Cholesterol?

  • LDL or “low density lipoprotein” cholesterol is what is known as the “bad” cholesterol.
  • LDL is called the bad cholesterol because it is the main source of cholesterol buildup and blockage in the arteries.
  • When too much of it circulates in the blood, it can build up in the inner walls of your arteries that feed blood into your heart and brain, which may cause atherosclerosis and increase your risk of heart attack and stroke.

What to know about your blood LDL cholesterol levels:

  • The higher your LDL blood cholesterol levels are, the greater your risk for heart disease.
  • High LDL levels have been found to have a great association with heart disease; so higher LDL levels indicate a greater risk for heart disease.

3 Nutrients in your diet that cause high LDL levels:

  1. Saturated Fat* – a type of fat found mostly in foods that come from animals.
  2. Trans Fat – found mostly in foods made with hydrogenated oils and fats such as stick margarine and french fries.
  3. Cholesterol - which comes only from animal products

*Saturated fat raises your LDL levels cholesterol level more than anything else in your diet.*

Diets with too much saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol are the main cause for high levels of blood cholesterol – a leading contributor to the high rate of heart attacks among Americans.

Additionally, people who are overweight or obese tend to have increased LDL levels. It’s not a coincidence that the 3 nutrients that lead to high cholesterol levels also leads to excess weight and obesity.

Content Created/Medically Reviewed by our Expert Doctors
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