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What Is Cholesterol?

Get the Facts & Improve Your Numbers
  -- By Becky Hand, Licensed & Registered Dietitian
Cholesterol is a soft, fat-like substance. It is a building block of body cells and hormones, makes up 50 percent of your nervous system, and is necessary for metabolism. In moderate amounts, it is essential to good health. But the dangers of high cholesterol, including artery blockage and damage, are well-documented. Other studies suggest that very low cholesterol levels can also be harmful and dangerous. The key seems to be making sure your body has enough—but not too much.

Cholesterol comes from two sources:
  1. Serum (blood) cholesterol flows through the bloodstream. Your body manufactures most of its blood cholesterol, but it absorbs some from the foods you eat. A total blood cholesterol level of less than 200 mg/dL is a healthy goal.
     
  2. Dietary cholesterol is found only in foods of animal origin, such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy products. It is not found in plant foods. This source is easier to control. Individuals should limit their intake of cholesterol to less than 300 milligrams daily.
Knowing Your Numbers
It might seem obvious, but it can’t be emphasized enough. One of the best ways to lower your cholesterol is to track it. Have your doctor perform blood tests regularly so that you can both track your results and progress. <pagebreak>

A complete cholesterol pictures is made up of three different things: <pagebreak>
High cholesterol, heart disease and obesity are the familiar steps in a tragic progression of declining health that affects hundreds of thousands of people every year. The relationship is clear. For a healthy heart, the best course of action is often to lower cholesterol in large part by losing weight. Even without weight loss, there are many heart benefits to lowering your cholesterol levels.

Be sure to work with your doctor to develop a cholesterol-lowering plan that is safe and effective for you. These plans usually involve some combination of dietary changes, regular exercise, medication, and weight loss.