Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that occurs naturally in all cells of the body. Cholesterol is healthy and is used to make hormones, vitamin D, and substances that aid digestion. Your body makes all the cholesterol it needs, so if you have too much cholesterol in your blood, you might experience high blood cholesterol, which increases your risk of heart disease. High blood cholesterol frequently occurs when you eat foods that have lots of fat or cholesterol.
Basically, blood is composed of lots of water, while cholesterol is made of fat. Just like oil and water, the two do not mix. To travel in the bloodstream, cholesterol is carried in small packages made of fat (lipid) on the inside and proteins on the outside (lipoproteins). It is important to have healthy levels of both kinds of lipoproteins in the body:
1. Bad cholesterol = low-density lipoprotein (LDL)
Also known as bad cholesterol, high levels of LDL cholesterol leads to arterial plaque (see below). LDL cholesterol causes build up in your arteries, blockages of your arteries, and can lead to heart disease. The higher the LDL level in your blood, the greater chance you have of developing heart disease.
2. Good cholesterol = high-density lipoprotein (HDL)
Also known as good cholesterol, HDL carries cholesterol from other parts of your body back to your liver to be removed from your body. HDL cholesterol helps to keep the arteries from clogging up and protects you from heart disease. The higher your HDL cholesterol level, the lower your chance of developing heart disease.
So when is cholesterol normal and when does high cholesterol pose a risk to your health? Continue reading to learn more about who is at risk for high cholesterol and what signs and symptoms of high cholesterol to look for.