Cholesterol is a soft, waxy, fat-like material that is made by the liver. Cholesterol serves many vital functions, and is part of every cell in the body. Our bodies require cholesterol to maintain healthy cell walls, make hormones, make vitamin D, and to make bile acids.
The food we eat can also play a big part in the amount of cholesterol in our bodies. If we eat an excess of food containing saturated fat, the liver will produce more cholesterol than the body needs. Our bodies will also absorb cholesterol directly from food that contains cholesterol.
In nature cholesterol is only found in animal based foods, but some food processing can cause other foods to have cholesterol as well. Foods fried in animal fat or tropical oils, have also been found to contain cholesterol. Saturated fat is also found primarily in animal based foods.
Cholesterol on its own can not dissolve in the blood. Tiny particles called lipoproteins deliver cholesterol to and from the blood cells. There are two lipoproteins that work with cholesterol, low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and high-density lipoproteins (HDL).
LDL cholesterol, often referred to as “Bad” cholesterol, carries cholesterol in the blood stream to the tissues, where it can be used or stored by the body. The reason this type of cholesterol is referred to as “Bad” is that this is the cholesterol that can build-up and clog arteries. This is what happens when there is too much LDL in the body.
HDL cholesterol, often referred to as “Good” cholesterol, carries cholesterol in the blood stream from the tissues to the liver. The liver then expels this cholesterol from the body. A high HDL level will tend to protect against heart attack and stroke.
There are other factors that can affect your blood cholesterol levels. Some of these factors include being overweight, lack of exercise, inherited health traits, increased age, and gender. Women after menopause tend to have higher cholesterol than before menopause. Women also tend to have a higher HDL level throughout there lives than men. This may help to explain why women under the age of 80 usually experience lower rates of heart disease and stroke than men.
According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI), a high cholesterol level is considered to be over 200 mg/dL for your total cholesterol. Total cholesterol is calculated as (LDL + HDL). This however, is not the only figure that you should be concerned about. You also need to have a HDL level greater than or equal to 45 mg/dL, to reduce your risk of heart disease.
Total Blood Cholesterol Levels
Desirable: less than 200 mg/dL
Borderline: 200-239 mg/dL
High: 240 mg/dL or higher
HDL Cholesterol Levels
Desirable: 45 mg/dL or higher
LDL Cholesterol Levels
Desirable: less than 130 mg/dL
Borderline: 130-159 mg/dL
High: 160 mg/dL or higher
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