Cholesterol and Your Heart: Where Do We Stand?

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IMAGE Cholesterol. You have heard it is "bad for you," but why? Where does it come from? Why is it a cause for concern?

What Is Cholesterol?

Cholesterol itself is not bad. It is a type of fat that has several important roles in the body such as:
  • Vital component of all cell membranes and tissue that protects nerve cells
  • Backbone of many hormones including estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone
  • Assists in creation of vitamin D and bile, a substance that helps digest fat
Problems occur when the levels of cholesterol in the blood get too high. This fat causes a build up of plaque in the blood vessels. Over time this build up increases the risk of cardiovascular disease such as heart disease or stroke.

Where Does Cholesterol Come From?

Cholesterol comes from internal and external source. Your liver creates cholesterol but you also take in cholesterol through your foods. Dietary cholesterol comes from animal products, such as meat, milk, cheese, and butter.

What Are the Types of Cholesterol?

Not all cholesterol is the same, there are several subtypes with important differences. Two more common subtypes include:
  • Low Density Lipoproteins (LDLs)—LDLs make up most of the body's cholesterol. These particles, called "bad" cholesterol, are partially responsible for forming plaque along blood vessel walls. The more LDLs you have, the greater your risk of getting coronary artery disease—or a heart attack.
  • High Density Lipoproteins (HDLs)—HDLs are known as "good" cholesterol. They are the protective counterparts to LDLs. HDLs contain a high proportion of protein, and their function is to scour the bloodstream, collecting excess cholesterol and transporting it back to the liver. The liver removes the cholesterol from the body. High levels of HDL cholesterol reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.

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