What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a type of fat that circulates in your blood. Cholesterol comes from two
- Your body makes some cholesterol on its own, regardless of what you eat.
- Cholesterol also comes from the foods you eat. Cholesterol is found only in animal
products. Foods from plants do not contain cholesterol.
How does cholesterol travel in the blood?
Cholesterol can't travel in the blood on its own. It's carried by special proteins.
Combinations of cholesterol and protein carriers are called "lipoproteins."
There are two types of lipoproteins:
- Low-density lipoproteins (LDLs, or "bad" cholesterol)
- High-density lipoproteins (HDLs, or "good" cholesterol)
Think of LDLs as delivery trucks and HDLs as garbage trucks. LDLs pick up cholesterol
from the liver and deliver it to cells. HDLs remove excess cholesterol from the blood and
take it to the liver. A person's total cholesterol level is a combination of LDL and HDL
What's so bad about cholesterol?
Your body produces more than enough cholesterol on its own to stay healthy. Most Americans
eat far too much cholesterol and fat, which can raise blood cholesterol levels. High
levels of cholesterol can lead to heart disease.
Excess LDL cholesterol in your blood gets deposited in arteries, the blood
vessels that feed the heart and brain. These deposits can join with other
substances to form plaque. Plaque is a thick, hard deposit in the blood vessel.
The name for build-up of plaque in the arteries is atherosclerosis, or "hardening of
the arteries." Plaque can narrow the passageway inside the artery and pinch off the
flow of blood to the heart muscle.
How can I get my cholesterol level checked?
Your health care provider can check your cholesterol level by taking a sample of
blood. The blood sample will be sent to a lab for testing. The test will show
your total cholesterol level.
How much cholesterol is too much?
A healthy cholesterol level
depends on a variety of factors, including:
- Your level of HDL cholesterol compared with your level of LDL cholesterol
- Your total cholesterol
- Your number of risk factors for heart disease
- Your age and activity level
- Your current health status
Be sure to discuss your test results with your health care provider.
High total cholesterol does not always indicate an increased risk for heart disease. If
you have high total cholesterol and high HDL cholesterol, you may not have an increased
risk. Women, in particular, have higher HDL levels than men. For example, a woman with
high HDL levels can have a total cholesterol level of 240 or over without an increased