Cholesterol is essential for life and is found in all cells. There are two types of cholesterol, one that our bodies make and dietary cholesterol. The cholesterol that our body makes is a fat-like substance produced by the liver. Dietary cholesterol is the cholesterol that other animals produce and that we ingest when we eat animal products like meat and milk. Both types of cholesterol are used to form cell membranes, and to manufacture hormones, bile acids, and vitamin D.
Cholesterol and other fats can’t dissolve in the blood. They have to be transported to and from the cells by special carriers composed of lipids and proteins called lipoproteins. The two lipoproteins to be most concerned about are low density lipoproteins (ldl), and high density lipoproteins (hdl).
What do your cholesterol numbers mean?
To determine your blood cholesterol levels and your risk of heart disease, your doctor will order a blood test to determine your lipid profile. This typically involves total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, and triglycerides (a kind of fat) levels. In the U.S., cholesterol levels are measured in milligrams (mg) per deciliter (dL) of blood. Based on the values obtained, your risk of a heart attack or stroke is determined. Does this mean that if your values are at an unacceptable level, you will have a heart attack? No, it just means you are at increased risk. Other factors such as family history, smoking, high blood pressure, and diabetes play a role in your risk.
There a several lifestyle changes that can improve your numbers and therefore decrease your risk of a heart attack or stroke. These include: