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HomeHealth A-Z Cholesterol
Cholesterol
Cholesterol
Regular exercise and eating a healthy low saturated fat diet are important steps in preventing high cholesterol.

Cholesterol

(ko-LES-te-rol)

Definition of Cholesterol

Cholesterol is a soft, fatty substance (lipid) that is found in the body's bloodstream and cells.

Description of Cholesterol

Cholesterol is a substance known as a lipoprotein. It travels thru the bloodstream and is identified as either a low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or a high-density lipoprotein (HDL). LDL moves cholesterol from the liver to the cells and is commonly referred to as the "bad" cholesterol since it can leave excess cholesterol in the bloodstream. HDL moves cholesterol from the bloodstream to the liver and is commonly called the "good" cholesterol because it helps to remove excess cholesterol from the bloodstream.

Cholesterol in the body has two sources; from the body itself or when consumed from animal food products such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy products. The body naturally produces all the cholesterol it needs, it does not need to be part of a healthy diet. Cholesterol is made in the body's liver and gets transported thru the bloodstream to the body's cells where it is needed for building cells. It is found in all parts of the body, including the muscles, skin, heart, liver, intestines and the nervous system. It is also used to manufacture hormones, bile acid, and vitamin D.

Causes and Risk Factors of High Cholesterol

While cholesterol is important to good health, too much cholesterol in the bloodstream can be unhealthy. Once the body's cells have all the cholesterol they need, the excess cholesterol can accumulate on the blood vessel walls. These deposits, also known as plaque, can cause the blood vessels to narrow over time and blood flow to decrease. High blood cholesterol levels increase the risk of developing heart disease.

Symptoms of High Cholesterol

High cholesterol is symptomless.

Diagnosis of High Cholesterol

Adults should have a blood test to check their cholesterol levels every five years. Knowing both the total cholesterol levels as well as HDL and LDL cholesterol levels can help determine overall cholesterol health. The goal is to have a healthy total cholesterol level as well as having a high HDL level and a low LDL level. Total blood cholesterol levels under 200 mg/dl are considered desirable. Total blood cholesterol levels between 200-239 mg/dl are considered borderline high and levels above 240 mg/dl are considered high.

Treatment of High Cholesterol

Treatment of high cholesterol usually focuses on living a healthier lifestyle. High cholesterol levels may often be lowered simply thru healthy eating, regular exercise and physical activity, and by maintaining a healthy weight. If a person smokes, quitting can also help lower cholesterol levels. If healthy cholesterol levels cannot be reached thru a healthy lifestyle alone, a doctor may prescribe cholesterol lowering medications.

Prevention of High Cholesterol

Preventing high cholesterol is primarily a result of maintaining a healthy lifestyle - eating healthy, engaging in exercise and physical activity on a daily basis, maintaining a healthy weight, and not smoking.

Since the body produces all the cholesterol it needs to function, it is important to limit the foods that are high in cholesterol. Foods from animal sources contain cholesterol, such as meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy products. High cholesterol foods include liver and organ meats, egg yolks, and diary fats. It is especially important to limit the amount of saturated fat in the diet, which is considered the most responsible dietary factor in high cholesterol levels.

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