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When we measure cholesterol, we measure the amount circulating in the blood. Problems develop not from having cholesterol in the blood -- we always need to have some cholesterol in our blood -- but from having too much cholesterol in the blood and too much of the wrong type, which can cause damage to our arteries. In general, having a high low-density (LDL) cholesterol level is bad: Excess cholesterol can promote arterial aging. However, even among such high-risk populations as middle-aged men, only 9 to 12 percent of those with total cholesterol readings of over 240 mg/dl will actually have symptomatic cardiovascular disease as a direct result of cholesterol. For each 1 percent increase in overall cholesterol reading in middle-aged men (for example, for 202 versus 200 mg/dl), the risk of developing cardiovascular disease increases by 2 percent.
High cholesterol means that there is an imbalance of fats (lipids), circulating in your blood stream. Cholesterol is a fatty substance your body uses to make hormones and metabolize food.
Doctors use three different measurements to determine your overall lipid health:
- Low-density lipoprotein (LDL), also known as “bad cholesterol” – if you have too much LDL, you may be at risk for cardiovascular disease. This type of cholesterol is linked to a buildup of plaque in your arteries, which can obstruct proper blood flow to the heart and other organs. The higher your LDL, the higher your risk of heart disease.
- High-density lipoprotein (HDL), also known as “good cholesterol” – HDL brings cholesterol from other parts of your body back to your liver, which will remove the harmful cholesterol from your body. High HDL levels seem protective against heart disease, while low HDL is associated with increased risk of heart disease.
- Triglycerides – this term refers to fat in the blood. This is a kind of fat that people eat, found mostly in vegetable oil and animal fats. When it exists in high levels in your blood, it can signal increased risk for cardiovascular disease, because triglycerides also contribute to a buildup of plaque in your arteries.
High cholesterol is defined as high LDL, with levels above 130 mg/dL or triglyceride levels above 150 mg/dL. While hereditary factors are the most common cause of high cholesterol, you can help prevent it by eating a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, high in fiber and by getting regular exercise.
Cholesterol is a fat-like substance but is not a fat itself. It is a waxy substance vital to a multitude of important metabolic functions. In fact, the body continuously manufactures some cholesterol and fatty acids that produce the basic tissues of the human body and maintain pliability and flexibility of cell walls. The body also absorbs dietary cholesterol found in foods of animal origins, such as beef, pork, chicken, eggs, milk, cheese and other dairy products. However, the body makes enough endogenous cholesterol to meet the demands of the body.
This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.