What Is Cholesterol?

To understand high blood cholesterol, it is important to know more about cholesterol.

  • Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that is found in all cells of the body. Your body needs some cholesterol to work the right way and makes all the cholesterol you need.
  • Cholesterol is also found in some of the foods you eat.
  • You use cholesterol to make hormones, Vitamin D, and substances that help you digest foods.

Blood is watery and cholesterol is fatty. Just like oil and water, the two do not mix. So, in order to travel in the bloodstream, cholesterol is carried in small packages called lipoproteins (lip-o-PRO-teens). The small packages are made of fat (lipid) on the inside and proteins on the outside. Two kinds of lipoproteins carry cholesterol throughout your body. It is important to have healthy levels of both:

  1. LDL (low density lipoprotein) cholesterol is sometimes called "bad" cholesterol.
    • High LDL cholesterol leads to a buildup of cholesterol in arteries. The higher the LDL level in your blood, the greater chance you have for getting heart disease.
  2. HDL (high density lipoprotein) cholesterol is sometimes called "good" cholesterol.
    • HDL carries cholesterol from other parts of your body back to your liver. The liver removes the cholesterol from your body. The higher your HDL cholesterol level, the lower your chance of getting heart disease.

The Effects of High Cholesterol on the Body

Our bodies need healthy levels of cholesterol to function. Cholesterol is a fatty substance made by the liver and distributed throughout the body. It allows our bodies to make vitamin D and hormones, and makes up bile acids. We also get less than 25 percent of our body’s cholesterol from the foods we eat, especially animal fats.

High cholesterol means you have a lot more cholesterol in your blood than you need. Most people who have high cholesterol don’t have any obvious symptoms. A simple blood test can tell you if you have high cholesterol. If you do have high cholesterol, dietary changes, exercise, and targeted medications can help lower it and reduce your risk of developing heart disease.