Cholesterol is a substance made in your body by your liver. It helps your body make cell membranes, hormones, and even some vitamins. Your liver makes all the cholesterol you need.
This naturally produced cholesterol is not the only source of cholesterol in your body, however. You also get cholesterol from the food you eat.
Good and bad cholesterol
There are two kinds of cholesterol. They are named for the type of protein that transports them through the body. They are called low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL).
LDL is the “bad” cholesterol. Too much of this type of cholesterol can increase your chances of heart attack and stroke. You should strive for an LDL level of 100 or lower.
HDL is the “good” cholesterol that helps to clean up your arteries. Men need a level of 40 or more and women need a level of 50 or more.
Where does cholesterol come from?
Some cholesterol is made by your liver. The amount of cholesterol that your body produces naturally can be affected by genetic factors, your gender, and your age. You don’t have control over these factors.
However, the rest comes from the food you eat. Foods high in saturated fat can also be high in cholesterol. Trans fats raise cholesterol, too. These are not as common as they used to be, but if you see “partially hydrogenated” on a label, don’t choose that food.
Besides reducing high-cholesterol foods…
In addition to cutting back on high-cholesterol foods, you can lower bad cholesterol by eating foods that are high in fiber. Good examples include fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and nuts.
Healthy fats from sources like oily fish and avocados can also help lower bad cholesterol. On the other hand, eating sugar can reduce good cholesterol.
Exercise is also important. Studies have found that exercise by itself is not very effective at reducing cholesterol. However, regular exercise in combination with a healthy diet does the trick.
Smoking and drinking alcohol are both habits that can raise cholesterol.
High cholesterol doesn’t have any symptoms, but you can find out with a simple blood test whether you need to be concerned about your cholesterol levels. September is a great time to find out!