Condition Center  |  Return to Main Health Page ›

What Is Cholesterol?

Get the Facts & Improve Your Numbers

8SHARES
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.
Continued ›
Page 1 of 3   Next Page ›
8SHARES

Advertisement -- Learn more about ads on this site.

More Great Features

Connect With SparkPeople

Subscribe to our Newsletters

About The Author

Becky Hand Becky Hand
Becky is a registered and licensed dietitian with almost 20 years of experience. A certified health coach through the Cooper Institute with a master's degree in health education, she makes nutrition principles practical, easy-to-apply and fun. See all of Becky's articles.

Member Comments

  • The article does not go into what Cholesterol does. I am not a medical professional but from what I have read Cholesterol fights inflammation. High cholesterol may mean your body is fighting this. Given that if cholesterol is inexplicably high find out what might be causing inflammation before going on those awful for you statin drugs. - 12/5/2014 3:06:20 PM
  • I've been working on reducing my cholesterol numbers for the past 6 months with diet and exercise. I'm having my recheck on Friday. Keeping fingers crossed. I would really like to get back to a normal level without medication. - 11/9/2011 6:50:19 AM
  • HDL, LDL, and Triglycerrides have always been difficult to understand especially the numbers. Good thing I do not want to be the heart doctor, (Cardio) I only wish to code the claim still I might need to get a better grasp of these cholesterol levels. One thing I understand for sure is that calcium and oatmeal play a part in reducing HDL and triglycer-rides levels and too much of either one of those elements can be rather sedating. - 2/28/2011 9:00:09 AM
  • I came here to find out the dangers of choresteroal that is too low. That's what the teaser said, but I didn't find it. - 9/3/2010 7:52:57 PM
  • At 5' 2" weighing 110 - 120 pounds, and having a very active lifestyle (jogging most days) for the last 30 years, I was shocked when one year ago my doctor told me my cholesterol was too high. I took egg yolks, cheese and dairy, beef, and pork out of my diet and got it down 50 points in the last nine months. Only have 40 more to go to get it below 200 mg/dL. Not everyone has to be overweight to have high cholesterol! The physical exercise saved me. It would have been much higher much sooner had it not been for my habit of early morning exercise. This was a very helpful and informative article. Thanks! - 9/20/2009 9:58:58 AM
  • Excellent article..covers the major facts that are a concern to most of us non-professionals
    - 9/20/2009 8:36:13 AM
  • MEOWSER2
    I work out for a living. My total number is around 225. My doctor seems fine with it. - 8/27/2009 3:53:53 PM
  • Actually, total cholesterol is:

    Divide your triglyceride level by 5 and add that to the sum of your HDL and LDL cholesterol levels. (It's a little more than HDL + LDL)

    Much of a person's cholesterol level is influenced by genetics (so one person may be a vegetarian and still have high cholesterol, while another eats lots of meat and has ok cholesterol). Your body makes cholesterol, so you get it even if you don't eat it. So you should ask your doctor if you need to cut back on cholesterol in your diet, or if you need a statin (if you think your cholesterol's high).

    But, if you're worried about your cholesterol, it's super easy to get it checked. You'll have to do a fast and then have blood drawn at the doctor (if you call to schedule an appointment, they'll let you know exactly what to do). Normally you get the results in a couple of days -- you can see what your HDL, LDL, and triglycerides are, and your doctor will calculate your total cholesterol for you. The great thing is that they can check a lot more than just cholesterol -- your blood cell counts, iron, etc -- that will also help to give you a snapshot of your health and any issues you need to address.

    My doctor mentioned that the total could even be above 200 if you have very high HDL (good cholesterol) and you'd be very healthy, so 200 isn't the magic number so much as being in a healthy range for each component separately. But 200's a good shorthand. - 5/20/2009 9:31:27 AM
  • This article was quite informative. It gave just enough information. I just had my cholesterol level checked: 161mg/Dl. I was glad to see this number.

    Tanya,
    Total cholesterol is HDL+LDL. - 2/7/2009 7:46:17 PM
  • LONEWOLF359
    It's up to 67% now?? Good lord, America! 2 out of 3 people are overweight!! Anyways, I'll probably have to cut back on my cholesterol, I often have 2 eggs for breakfast and I refuse to just throw the yolks in the trash... - 2/7/2009 12:00:12 PM
  • SBERRY4
    I would like to know more about Cholesterol as I have been on Simvastatin for a long time an now having such pain in my legs an groin area when I walk. - 10/13/2008 2:22:20 PM
  • Good article. - 8/10/2008 1:53:00 AM
  • I happened on this article by accident, and found it to be quite helpful.
    I have some work to do on these levels. - 1/6/2008 10:44:09 AM
  • TANYA46
    The article should cover what a doctor means by "Total Cholesterol" as that is the number that is most often given to the patient. Additionally, it should cover the "ratio" and what it means. - 12/12/2007 3:36:14 PM

x Lose 10 Pounds by February 2! Get a FREE Personalized Plan