Cholesterol is a fatty yellow substance. It is made by your liver from the fats, carbohydrates and proteins in the food you eat. Most of the cholesterol in our diet comes from meat, bacon, eggs and dairy products.
The body uses cholesterol to make hormones and nerve substances. There is another fatty substance along with cholesterol in your body called triglyceride (tri GLISS e ride). This is also a bad type of fat to have in your blood in high levels.
There are two important types of cholesterol. One is LDL (low density lipoprotein) or "bad" cholesterol. The other is HDL (high density lipoprotein) or the "good" cholesterol.
LDLs carry a lot of cholesterol that ends up lining the walls of your blood vessels. HDL is like a "scrubbing bubble" that cleans the vessel walls of the fatty, greasy cholesterol. Cholesterol causes plaque buildup on the walls of blood vessels, making them narrow. This narrowing sometimes reduces how blood flows in your vessels, and may increase the chance of having a heart attack or stroke. This process takes a long time, but the best time to work at reducing cholesterol levels is when you are a child or teenager.
The most common cause is from the types of foods we choose to eat. Another less common reason is that in some people, their body does not do a good job of making cholesterol. This is usually an inherited problem. Some kinds of hormonal disorders, or certain kidney or liver diseases, can also increase cholesterol level.
Blood tests are done to screen for high cholesterol. This is because usually there are no symptoms until very late when the vessels have become quite narrow.
Levels lower than 200 mg/dl are normal
Between 200 and 239 are borderline high
Above 240 is high
For the good cholesterol (HDL), we want levels that are higher than 40 mg/dl, so they to do a good job cleaning the vessel walls.
The American Heart Association recommends a low fat diet. Ways to help are:
Trim the fat and skin from meats and chicken
Use low fat milk (1%) or skim milk instead of whole milk