Cholesterol Basics: Types, Risk Factors, Levels, and Treatment

Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance made in the liver and other cells and found in certain foods, such as food from animals, like dairy products, eggs, and meat. The body needs some cholesterol in order to function properly. Its cell walls, or membranes, need cholesterol in order to produce hormones, vitamin D, and the bile acids that help to digest fat. But the body needs only a limited amount of cholesterol to meet its needs. When too much is present health problems such as heart disease may develop.


Types of Cholesterol

The three main types of cholesterol complexes used to transport cholesterol include:

  • Low density lipoproteins (LDL): LDL, also called “bad” cholesterol, can cause buildup of plaque on the walls of arteries. The more LDL there is in the blood, the greater the risk of heart disease.
  • High density lipoproteins (HDL): HDL, also called “good” cholesterol, helps the body get rid of bad cholesterol in the blood. The higher the level of HDL cholesterol, the better. If levels of HDL are low, the risk of heart disease increases.
  • Very low density lipoproteins (VLDL): VLDL is similar to LDL cholesterol in that it contains mostly fat and not much protein.

How Much Cholesterol Is Too Much?

Everyone over the age of 20 should get their cholesterol levels measured at least once every five years.

Total CholesterolCategory
Less than 200Desirable
200 – 239Borderline High
240 and aboveHigh

How Can I Lower My Cholesterol and Risk of Heart Disease?

  • Eat low-cholesterol foods.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Drink alcohol only in moderation.
  • Exercise.
  • Avoid trans fats.
  • Take medication as prescribed by your doctor.
  • Eat fruits and vegetables.
  • Increase complex carbohydrates and fiber.



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