What is Cholesterol?

By Meghan Bailey on Jul 22, 2015

Too much cholesterol is bad for your heart: You hear this a lot but what does it really mean? Cholesterol is broken into two types, "good" and "bad" cholesterol.

Bad cholesterol:

  • Low-density lipoproteins, or LDLs, are what your doctor may refer to as the bad kind of cholesterol
  • LDLs reach high proportions if you eat a lot of saturated fats (commonly found in meat, dairy products, and fast food) or you don’t lead an active lifestyle
  • LDLs combine with fat in the blood stream and collect on the walls of arteries as "plaque," making arteries stiff and unable to pump blood to your heart and brain
  • If bad cholesterol levels get too high, plaque can break off from the artery walls and form a "clot" that may block the blood vessels going to the heart and brain

Good cholesterol:

  • "Good" cholesterol, or high-density lipoproteins, prevent bad cholesterol from sticking to arteries
  • HDLs can be found in Omega-3 oils and soluble fibers (such as legumes or root vegetables)
  • Exercising and losing weight also raises the body's natural HDL levels

How to manage your cholesterol:

  • If you are over 20 years old, have your doctor check your cholesterol levels every five years
  • Diet, weight, and a lack of physical activity affect the balance of your cholesterol levels
  • Certain factors pre-expose you to higher cholesterol levels: smoking, high blood pressure, being older, and having a family history of high cholesterol levels
  • Talk to your doctor about having your cholesterol levels tested, even if you don’t think you are at risk for high cholesterol or heart disease

More than a million people in the United States each year have a heart attack, which can often be prevented by living more healthily. Stay on top of your cholesterol levels by working with your doctor!