Cholesterol

Cholesterol: An Overview Image

Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance found in your body’s cell membranes and bloodstream. Cholesterol itself isn’t bad for you — in fact, your body needs cholesterol to carry out of number of important bodily functions. However, problems can arise when certain cholesterol levels get too high.

How Does Your Body Use Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a naturally occurring substance in your body. It is essential to the production of:

  • Bile acid in the liver
  • Certain hormones
  • Fat-soluble vitamins, such as A, D, E and K
  • Healthy cell membranes.

According to the American Heart Association, your body produces approximately 75 percent of its own blood cholesterol. The remaining 25 percent comes from food sources.

Cholesterol doesn’t dissolve in your blood. Instead, lipoprotein carriers transport it through your bloodstream. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is what we call the “bad” cholesterol, and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) is called “good” cholesterol.

Good and Bad Cholesterol

High-density lipoprotein carries about 25 to 30 percent of blood cholesterol. HDL cholesterol is termed “good” because experts believe that HDL cholesterol protects the heart by carrying cholesterol away from your arteries and taking it back to your liver, where your body can dispose of it. This slows the buildup of arterial plaque. As a result, healthy levels of HDL can decrease the risk of heart disease.

Low-density lipoprotein, on the other hand, can have a negative effect on your heart. An excess of LDL cholesterol in your body can accumulate in your arteries, forming a hard plaque. Arterial plaque slows, and sometimes blocks, blood flow to the heart and brain. This increases your risk of coronary heart disease, heart attack and stroke.

How Do You Lower Your Cholesterol Levels?

Your genes determine the amount of cholesterol your body produces. Some people have naturally high LDL cholesterol levels. Additionally, cholesterol levels tend to rise as you age.

Your cholesterol level is also affected by your diet and lifestyle choices. High fat, high cholesterol foods increase your LDL cholesterol levels.

You can lower both your cholesterol levels and your risk of heart problems with the following healthy living tips:

  • Avoid fatty, high-cholesterol foods
  • Drink alcohol only in moderation
  • Eat a well-balanced, high-fiber diet
  • Exercise regularly
  • Maintain a healthy intake of omega-3 fatty acids
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Quit smoking cigarettes if you’re a smoker.

Checking Your Cholesterol Levels

If you’re concerned about your cholesterol levels, you can talk to your doctor about getting a blood test. Typically, high cholesterol does not present with any outward symptoms, but a blood test will show your HDL, LDL and overall cholesterol numbers.

Resources

A.D.A.M. Inc. (2008) Cholesterol. Retrieved June 30, 2010, from http://health.nytimes.com/health/guides/nutrition/cholesterol/overview.html.

American Heart Association. (2008) About cholesterol. Retrieved June 30, 2010, from http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=512.

U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2010) Cholesterol. Retrieved June 30, 2010, from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/cholesterol.html.