What is Cholesterol? What Does It Do For Your Body?

September is cholesterol awareness month. Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that is found in all the cells in your body. Your body needs some cholesterol to make hormones, vitamin D, and substances that help you digest foods. Your body makes all the cholesterol it needs. Cholesterol is also found in foods from animal sources, such as egg yolks, meat, and cheese. If you have too much cholesterol in your blood, it can combine with other substances in the blood to form plaque. Plaque sticks to the walls of your arteries. This buildup of plaque is known as atherosclerosis.

HDL stands for high-density lipoprotein. It is sometimes called “good” cholesterol. It carries cholesterol from other parts of your body back to your liver. The liver then removes cholesterol from your body.

LDL stands for low-density lipoprotein. It is sometimes called “bad” cholesterol because it leads to a build-up of plaque in the arteries.

VLDL stands for very low-density lipoprotein. Some people also refer to it as “bad” cholesterol because it also leads to a build-up of plaque in the arteries. But VLDL and LDL are different. VLDL mainly carries triglycerides and LDL mainly carries cholesterol.

The most common cause of high cholesterol is an unhealthy lifestyle. These three lifestyle habits are the main culprits of high cholesterol:

Eating foods that contain lots of bad fats- Saturated fat found in such foods as certain meats, fried foods, and processed foods can raise your LDL.

Lack of physical activity- lowers your HDL, the “good” cholesterol.

Smoking- especially in women, lowers HDL and raises your LDL.

Having high cholesterol causes a myriad of problems including blocking the arteries to your heart, which can cause a heart attack, blocking other arteries in your body, including the arteries that bring oxygen-rich blood to your brain and limbs.

This leads to carotid artery disease, stroke, and peripheral arterial disease.

You can lower your cholesterol by changing your lifestyle. Eating healthier, exercising more, and giving up smoking are three ways to start.

If the lifestyle changes are not enough to lower your cholesterol to an acceptable level, you may need to take medication.

See your doctor for a cholesterol screening.

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