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Understanding Cholesterol

What Is Cholesterol?


Cholesterol is soft, fat-like, waxy substance found your blood and in every cell in your body. Every single person has cholesterol, it’s normal! Cholesterol is an important part of a healthy body because it plays a vital role in many biochemical processes, such as the production of cell membranes and the synthesis of steroid hormones, as well as serving other necessary functions. Cholesterol does not dissolve in your blood, rather, it must be transported to and from your cells via a carrier. This carrier is called a lipoprotein.

Your bodies total cholesterol count, measured by a blood test, is made up of HDL cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, triglycerides and Lp(a) cholesterol.


Hypercholesterolemia is the medical term for high levels of blood cholesterol.

Too much cholesterol in the blood is a major risk for coronary heart disease (which can lead to a heart attack) and stroke.

High cholesterol (hypercholesterolemia) is, for the most part, preventable and treatable. A healthy diet, regular exercise, and for some people, medication can go a long way toward reducing their high cholesterol.

If left untreated, high cholesterol levels (hypercholesterolemia), or more accurately, higher concentrations of LDL cholesterol and lower or not enough concentrations of functional HDL cholesterol, are strongly associated with the onset of cardiovascular disease. Cardiovascular Disease refers to any disease that affects the cardiovascular system, although they mainly involve the heart or the blood vessels.

LDL Cholesterol – “Bad” Cholesterol

LDL or “low density lipoprotein” cholesterol is the “bad” cholesterol. When too much of it circulates in the blood, it can build up in the inner walls of your arteries that feed blood into your heart and brain, which may cause atherosclerosis and increase your risk of heart attack and stroke. Generally, high LDL Cholesterol levels have been found to have a great association with heart disease; so the higher your LDL levels are, the more you are at risk for heart disease.

HDL Cholesterol – “Good” Cholesterol

HDL or “high density lipoprotein” cholesterol is what is known as “good” cholesterol.  Between 25% and 35% of all blood cholesterol is carried by HDL. High levels of HDL seemingly protect against heart attack, whereas low levels of HDL – less than 40 mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter of blood) – increase your risk of heart disease. Generally, the higher your levels of HDL cholesterol are, the lower risk you have for heart disease

Lp(a) Cholesterol

Lp(a) cholesterol is another undesirable low density lipoprotein that is part of a protein called apo(a). Although Lp(a) cholesterol is not as commonly evaluated as LDL and HDL cholesterol and the way Lp(a) cholesterol works is not fully understood, Lp(a) cholesterol levels should be kept lower than 20 mg/dL and amounts higher than 20 – 30 mg/dL are considered high. Some medical experts believe that high levels of Lp(a) cholesterol in the blood are as dangerous as LDL cholesterol levels in causing plaque build up in your arteries and the diseases associated with such build up.


Triglycerides are another form of fat produced in your body. High levels of triglycerides in your blood can be due to cigarette smoking, being overweight or obesity, excessive alcohol consumption, physical inactivity, and/or a very high carbohydrate diet (60% of total calories or more comes from carbohydrates). High triglyceride levels are associated with high total cholesterol levels, which include a high LDL (bad) level and a low HDL (good) level. Many people with heart disease and/or diabetes also have high triglyceride levels.

Related Terms & Conditions

What is Atherosclerosis and the consequences of this medical condition?
  • Atherosclerosis is a medical condition in which the process of LDL cholesterol, cellular waste products, calcium and fibrin (clotting material in the blood), forms plaque. Atherosclerosis is sometimes known as coronary atherosclerosis.
  • Atherosclerosis is a type of arteriosclerosis, which is a general medical term to describe the thickening and hardening of the arteries.
  • Plaque is a substance that can narrow arteries and make them less flexible by building up in the inner lining of your arteries.
  • If plaque partially or completely blocks the flow of blood through an artery, it may result in hemorrhaging (bleeding) into the plaque, or it may result in a thrombus (a blood clot) forming on the surface of the plaque. If this type of bleeding or clotting occurs and blocks the entire artery, it may result in a heart attack or a stroke.
  • If there is a blood clot that reduces blood flow in the arteries that supply blood to the heart  –>
    • then you may experience angina (chest pain) or a heart attack
  • If there is a clot that reduces blood flow that supplies blood to the brain –>
    • then the result is a stroke
Cholesterol Facts and Figures
  • Every cell in everybody contains cholesterol.
  • Your total cholesterol count is made up of HDL cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, triglycerides and Lp(a) cholesterol.
  • Approximately 75% of your total cholesterol is made in your body. That means only 25% of your total blood cholesterol levels come from your food.
  • Cholesterol levels tend to elevate as you get older.
Content Created/Medically Reviewed by our Expert Doctors
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