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What is Cholesterol?

What is Cholesterol?

Article by Arnie Gitomer

What is Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a waxy, fatty substance that is present in blood. Cholesterol is necessary for life. It aids in digestion and acts as a precursor for Vitamin D and certain hormones. It is needed in minute amounts. The body manufactures all of the cholesterol it requires.

Excess cholesterol is absorbed into the arterial walls, in the heart and elsewhere in the body, causing the buildup of layers of plaque that can ultimately lead to blockages. Heart attacks, strokes, and other serious problems often result.

Not all cholesterol is the same. Low_density lipoprotein (LDL_cholesterol) is considered "bad" since it causes plaque to build up in the arteries. High_density lipoprotein (HDL_cholesterol) is referred to as "good" cholesterol since it does the opposite, carrying plaque away from the arterial wall to the liver and out of the body.

More important than simply lowering total cholesterol, maintaining an optimal balance among LDL, HDL, and triglycerides is key to cardiovascular health. A low_fat diet, exercise, and regular consumption of dietary supplements formulated with scientifically proven, high quality ingredients such as vitamin E, niacin, and pantethine can help you achieve a healthy blood lipid profile.

Blood in Balance: The Basic Facts About Blood Lipids

The lipids (or fats) present in human blood include:

  • low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol
  • high density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol
  • triglycerides (TG)

These various blood lipid components must be balanced in order for your circulatory system to function correctly. Levels of HDL cholesterol should be high, while levels of the other blood lipids, including LDL cholesterol, should be low.

Although the NCEP guidelines for total cholesterol remain the same, recent medical findings have resulted in new recommendations for:

  • a lower level of LDL cholesterol
  • a higher level of HDL cholesterol
  • reduction of elevated triglycerides as a independent risk factor

Therefore, it is important to determine the levels of these blood lipids individually, in addition to your total cholesterol. These levels can be measured with a simple blood test. This test is called a "blood lipid panel" or "complete lipoprotein profile". Because food affects the levels of lipids in your blood, it is necessary to fast for 9_12 hours before the test. For convenience, the test is usually scheduled in the morning, after fasting overnight.

About Cholesterol and Heart Health

New Cholesterol Guidelines Released by U.S. National Institutes of Health

Updated guidelines for the prevention and management of high cholesterol were released in May 2001 by the National Institutes of Health (a division of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services) as part of the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP). Updates are made when warranted by recent advances in science. The new guidelines are the first major update to the program in nearly a decade.

Total cholesterol is the measurement of all cholesterol present in your blood, including HDL, LDL, triglycerides, and all other carriers.

Some test results will include a "cholesterol ratio". This number is total cholesterol divided by HDL cholesterol. For example, a total cholesterol level of 200 mg/dL divided by an HDL cholesterol level of 50 mg/dL would result in a ratio of 4:1. While this ratio offers a more complete picture than the total cholesterol number alone, absolute numbers for each of the blood lipids will be most helpful to your physician in determining heart health and an appropriate course of treatment.

A person with a "high" total cholesterol level has more than twice the risk of heart disease compared to someone whose total cholesterol is "desirable".