What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a type of lipid. It’s a waxy, fat-like substance that your liver produces naturally. It’s vital for the formation of cell membranes, certain hormones, and vitamin D.
Cholesterol doesn’t dissolve in water, so it can’t travel through your blood on its own. To help transport cholesterol, your liver produces lipoproteins.
Lipoproteins are particles made from fat and protein. They carry cholesterol and triglycerides (another type of lipid) through your bloodstream. The two major forms of lipoprotein are low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL).
If your blood contains too much LDL cholesterol (cholesterol carried by low-density lipoprotein), it’s known as high cholesterol. When left untreated, high cholesterol can lead to many health problems, including heart attack or stroke.
High cholesterol typically causes no symptoms. That’s why it’s important to get your cholesterol levels checked on a regular basis.Risk factors for high cholesterol
You may be at a higher risk of developing high cholesterol if you:
- are overweight or obese
- eat an unhealthy diet
- don’t exercise regularly
- smoke tobacco products
- have a family history of high cholesterol
- have diabetes, kidney disease
If you have high cholesterol, your doctor may recommend lifestyle changes to help lower it. For instance, they may recommend changes to your diet, exercise habits, or other aspects of your daily routine. If you smoke tobacco products, they will likely advise you to quit.
Foods that are high in cholesterol, saturated fats, or trans fats include:
- red meat, organ meats, egg yolks, and high-fat dairy products
- processed foods made with cocoa butter, palm oil, or coconut oil
- deep fried foods, such as potato chips, onion rings, and fried chicken
- certain baked goods, such as some cookies and muffins
Genetic risk factors for high cholesterol can’t be controlled. However, lifestyle factors can be managed.
To lower your risk of developing high cholesterol:
- Eat a nutritious diet that’s low in cholesterol and animal fats, and high in fiber.
- Avoid excessive alcohol consumption.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Exercise regularly.
- Don’t smoke.