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What is Cholesterol?

What is cholesterol you ask. Cholesterol is a fatty substance that does not dissolve in water or blood. 

There are two kinds of cholesterol:

1. serum cholesterol (cholesterol in the blood stream); and,
2. dietary cholesterol (cholesterol found in foods).

Serum cholesterol is made up of two types of particles that have opposite effects on the blood vessels, low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and high-density lipoproteins (HDL). Lipoproteins is cholesterol that travels through your veins and arteries. Lipoproteins are made up of protein and fat.

LDL cholesterol is considered the bad cholesterol. This is the cholesterol that clogs your arteries and causes heart disease (for a more in-depth look into LDL cholesterol see the article LDL cholesterol levels).

HDL cholesterol is considered the good cholesterol. HDL cholesterol actually prevents heart diseases, rather than cause it (see HDL cholesterol levels for more on good cholesterol).

Together, the LDL and HDL cholesterol form a person's total cholesterol level. It's important to know that two different people can have the exact same total cholesterol level, yet one person could be at high risk for heart disease while the other person at low risk. You see, it doesn't matter what your total cholesterol level is, what does matter is the breakdown of your total cholesterol (LDL vs. HDL). You can have a total cholesterol of below 200, which is considered safe, but still be at high risk for heart disease. Similarly, you can have a cholesterol level of above 300, which is considered high risk, yet really be a low risk for heart disease.

What you really need to worry about is not your total cholesterol, but your ldl cholesterol levels. The higher your LDL cholesterol levels are, the more you're at risk for heart disease. Cholesterol is not bad, just too much of LDL cholesterol is bad. In fact, your cells, brain, hormones and nerves NEED cholesterol, without it you wouldn't exist.

Two things that can raise your serum cholesterol: foods (animal fats) and your genetic makeup (your body may be predisposed to making high amounts of cholesterol). The foods you eat play a significant role in raising and/or lowering your cholesterol levels, which is a good thing. This means that if you currently have high cholesterol levels, you can take certain steps to lower it.

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