What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a fat-like nutrient used by your body to help make hormones and build cell walls. Your body makes all the cholesterol it needs to function properly, so you do not need dietary cholesterol. However, it is found in many foods, including meat and dairy products.
What happens when your body has too much cholesterol?
When there is too much cholesterol in your blood stream, it can become trapped and accumulate in the walls of the arteries that lead to your heart (coronary arteries). This build-up of cholesterol is called plaque.
How does excess cholesterol contribute to heart disease?
When plaque clogs your coronary arteries, your heart doesn't get enough blood or the nutrients and oxygen it needs. Part of your heart muscle can die. When that happens, you may have chest pain (angina), a heart attack or sudden death.
How much cholesterol is safe to have in the blood?
Most experts recommend total cholesterol level of less than 200 mg/dL.
You're considered borderline high risk for heart disease if your total cholesterol level is between 200-239 mg/dL. If your level is 240 mg/dL or higher, you're at high risk.
Is there "good" and "bad" cholesterol?
- Good=HDL (high-density lipoprotein). The higher your good cholesterol (HDL) level, the more protection you have against heart disease.
- Bad=LDL (low-density lipoprotein). The higher your bad cholesterol level, the greater your risk of developing heart disease.
Lipoproteins are cholesterol carriers. They carry cholesterol throughout your blood stream.
- HDL carries cholesterol away from your coronary arteries.
- LDL sticks to the walls of your coronary arteries and forms plaque that can clog the arteries and lead to a heart attack.
The American Heart Association recommends these cholesterol levels:
- HDL level be 40 mg/dL or higher.
- LDL level should be less than 100 mg/dL.
How can blood cholesterol be controlled?
Recent studies show that the American diet contains more fat calories than is considered heart healthy.
You often can improve your cholesterol levels by:
- Reducing the total amount of fat and saturated fat in your diet.
- Losing weight, if you are overweight.
The American Heart Association recommends that less than 30 percent of your daily calories should come from fat, with 10 percent or less of that from saturated sources.