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What is Cholesterol?

Posted on January 30, 2013

Cholesterol is a waxy substance found in all parts of our bodies. It helps make cell membranes, some hormones, and vitamin D. Cholesterol comes from two sources: your body and the food you eat. Your liver makes all the cholesterol that your body needs already. Eating too much of the foods that contain it, however, can make the level of cholesterol in your body go up. Foods that contain cholesterol include meats, whole dairy products, egg yolks, poultry, and certain seafood such as shrimp.

Check Your Cholesterol

So as is the case with the old Western movie starring Clint Eastwood, with cholesterol there is the good, the bad and the ugly. There are two kinds of cholesterol; low density lipoproteins called LDL and high density lipoproteins called HDL. LDL cholesterol is the bad cholesterol because high levels of it contribute to build up in the walls of your arteries, which can make you sick or cause a heart attack. HDL cholesterol is referred to as the good cholesterol because it helps to rid your body of the bad cholesterol.

So what affects your blood cholesterol levels? Although genetics does play a role, food also plays a big role. Foods high in saturated fat and cholesterol can raise your overall levels. Being overweight also can raise your level of bad cholesterol and lower your good cholesterol levels. Being physically active lowers the bad and raises the good, so exercise is a positive lifestyle habit to help stay healthy. Genetics plays a role because genes affect how your body makes and handles cholesterol, as does age and gender. Women generally have lower rates than men until menopause, when rates of the bad cholesterol tend to rise.

So how much is too much cholesterol? The desirable rate of your HDL is under 200. A level between 200 and 239 is considered borderline high. A number 240 and above is considered high. Your bad or LDL cholesterol ideally should be less than 130. A level of 130 to 159 is considered borderline high; a level of 160 or above is considered high.

Doctors generally recommend that you eat less saturated fats and cholesterol if your numbers come in high. Your doctor may also recommend that you be more physically active, and if you are overweight, that you try to lose weight. Many prescribe a cholesterol-lowering medicine. Having your blood cholesterol checked should be part of a regular annual physical examination. If your cholesterol is high, your healthcare provider will probably monitor your cholesterol with regular blood tests.

Courtesy of Marge Drozd, MSN,RN, APRN-BC, Director, Community Mobile Health Services. Visit our website to find a physician affiliated with Saint Peter’s. As part of the Go Red campaign for heart health, the staff of Saint Peter's Community Mobile Health Services will be doing free blood pressure and cholesterol screenings from 1:00 PM to 4:00 PM Friday, February 1, in the Sister Marie de Pazzi Conference Center located on the ground floor of Saint Peter's University Hospital.