Christine Perry, MS, RD
Related Media: High Blood Cholesterol - Cooking Healthy Meals
Cholesterol. You have heard it is "bad for you," but why? Where does it come from? Why is it a cause for concern?
Cholesterol itself is not bad. It is a type of fat that has several important roles in the body such as:
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.
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.
Not all cholesterol is the same, there are several subtypes with important differences. Two more common subtypes include:
Problems occur when the levels of cholesterol in the blood get too high.
Increased levels of cholesterol in the blood can contribute to
atherosclerosis. This is the gradual build-up of plaque along the walls of your arteries. Overtime this build-up can narrow the artery and stiffen the arterial wall. If the plaque is severe enough it can block blood flow. If this blockage occurs in the heart it can cause a heart attack, in the brain it can cause a stroke.
Part of the plaque can also break off and be released into the blood flow. Once released, clots can travel through the bloodstream through smaller and smaller vessels until they either dissolve or reach a point where they cannot squeeze through, causing a blockage.
is one of many risk factors for developing heart disease. Your actual risk of heart disease will depend on the combination of risk factors. Some risk factors like cholesterol level can be modified, while others like age can not be changed. The full list of risk factors for heart disease includes:
The more risk factors you have, the greater your chances of developing heart disease.
Cholesterol levels can be measured with a simple blood test. What is too high for you will depend on the number of heart disease risk factors that you have. The table below are recommended levels for people with no known heart disease risk factors.
If you have other risk factors for heart disease such as diabetes, your docotor may recommend lower target cholesterol levels. Discuss your risk factors and cholesterol goals with your doctor.
Fortunately there are some effective ways to lower and manage your cholesterol levels.
Lifestyle changes are often an effective way to lower cholesterol and reduce your risk of heart disease. This can include regular exercise, a healthy diet, not smoking, ad maintaining a healthy weight. There are also cholesterol-lowering medication if you need them.
Make sure to have your cholesterol levels tested regularly (once every five years). If you are concerned about your cholesterol levels, talk to your doctor to create a plan that is right for you.
American Heart Association
National Library of Medicine
Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada
Public Health Agency of Canada
American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association. 2013 ACC/AHA Guideline on the Treatment of Blood Cholesterol to Reduce Atherosclerotic Cardiovascular Risk in Adults.
J Am Coll Cardiol. 2013: early online. Available at: http://content.onlinejacc.org/article.aspx?articleID=1770217. Accessed January 6, 2013.
High cholesterol: understand your risks. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/cholesterol/index.htm. Updated July 10, 2012. Accessed September 17, 2012.
Hypercholesterolemia. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/. Updated September 9, 2012. Accessed September 17, 2012.
NCEP ATP III guidelines. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/. Accessed September 17, 2012.
What is cholesterol? National Heart Lung and Blood Institute website. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/hbc/. Updated July 1, 2011. Accessed September 17, 2012.
What your cholesterol levels mean. American Heart Association website. Available at: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/Cholesterol/AboutCholesterol/What-Your-Cholesterol-Levels-Mean_UCM_305562_Article.jsp. Updated August 23, 2012. Accessed September 17, 2012.
Last reviewed September 2012 by Brian Randall, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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