About Cholesterol

Updated:May 31,2017

Cholesterol 101


Whether you’ve just been diagnosed with high cholesterol or just want to learn more about cholesterol, this site can help you. You’ve already taken the most important first step. By coming here, you’ve shown you care about your cholesterol and health.

check your knowledge about cholesterolNow, just remember three things: Check. Change. Control.

Let’s start with what cholesterol is and what it does.

Cholesterol is a waxy substance. It’s not “bad”: your body needs it to build cells. But too much can be a problem.

Cholesterol comes from two sources. Your body (specifically your liver) makes all the cholesterol you need. The rest you get from foods from animals. For example, meat, poultry and full-fat dairy products contain cholesterol (called dietary cholesterol). More importantly, these foods are high in saturated and trans fat. That’s a problem because these fats cause your liver to make more cholesterol than it otherwise would. For some people, this added production means they go from a normal cholesterol level to one that’s unhealthy.

Some tropical oils, such as palm oil, palm kernel oil and coconut oil, also can trigger your liver to make more cholesterol. These oils are often found in baked goods.

View an animation of cholesterol.

 View an animation of cholesterol. Why cholesterol matters

Cholesterol circulates in the blood, and as blood cholesterol levels rise, so does the risk to your health. That’s why it’s important to have your cholesterol tested so you can know your levels.

There are actually two types of cholesterol: "bad" and "good." LDL cholesterol is the bad kind. HDL is the good kind. Too much of the bad kind — or not enough of the good kind — increases the chances that cholesterol will start to slowly build up in the inner walls of arteries that feed the heart and brain. We talk more about these two kinds of cholesterol here: LDL, HDL and Triglycerides.

For now, think of LDL cholesterol as being like a family member who carries stuff all through the house and drops it along the way. (If you recognize or live with this person, sorry!) HDL cholesterol is like someone who picks up the dropped stuff and puts it away. This (good!) person helps keep the house from becoming impassable.

Together with other substances, cholesterol can form a thick, hard deposit that can narrow the arteries and make them less flexible. This condition is known as atherosclerosis. If a clot forms and blocks a narrowed artery, a heart attack or stroke can result.

High cholesterol is one of the major controllable risk factors for coronary heart disease, heart attack and stroke. If you have other risk factors such as smoking, high blood pressure or diabetes, this risk increases even more. The more risk factors you have and the more severe they are, the more your overall risk rises.
 

Learn more:


This content was last reviewed April 2017.