What Is Cholesterol?

Accord­ing to the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion, near­ly 71 mil­lion Amer­i­can adults have high cho­les­terol and only 1 out of every 3 adults with high cho­les­terol has their con­di­tion under con­trol. In fact, peo­ple with high cho­les­terol have approx­i­mate­ly twice the risk of heart dis­ease than peo­ple with opti­mal lev­els. Plus, hav­ing high cho­les­terol puts you at risk for devel­op­ing heart dis­ease which is the lead­ing cause of death in the Unit­ed States.

What is cholesterol?

Cho­les­terol is a waxy sub­stance that’s found in all cells of the body. Your body uses cho­les­terol to do sev­er­al good things like make hor­mones, vit­a­min D, and sub­stances that help digest food. Cho­les­terol is found in your body and also in some of the foods you eat. How­ev­er, cho­les­terol can­not dis­solve in water or blood, and can’t move around the blood­stream on its own. In order to trav­el around the body, it attach­es to a pro­tein, form­ing a lipopro­tein. Depend­ing on the make-up of the lipopro­tein (more pro­tein vs. more cho­les­terol) will deter­mine whether the cho­les­terol moves through the body quick­ly to your liv­er, or more slow­ly leav­ing deposits as it goes.

There are two dif­fer­ent types of lipopro­teins that car­ry cho­les­terol through your body: low-den­si­ty lipopro­teins (LDL) and high-den­si­ty lipopro­teins (HDL). It is impor­tant to main­tain healthy lev­els of both types of cho­les­terol. LDL is gen­er­al­ly con­sid­ered bad” cho­les­terol because it builds up in your body, while HDL is con­sid­ered good” as it car­ries cho­les­terol from oth­er parts of the body back to your liv­er for disposal.

Peo­ple that have high cho­les­terol usu­al­ly show no signs or symp­toms — so many indi­vid­u­als don’t know their lev­els are too high. How­ev­er, these height­ened lev­els lead to a greater chance of devel­op­ing coro­nary artery disease.

It is rec­om­mend­ed that adults have their cho­les­terol lev­els checked once every five years. Talk to your physi­cian about your cho­les­terol lev­els at your next appointment.

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