Cholesterol is a waxy substance your body uses to protect nerves, make cell tissues and produce certain hormones. All the cholesterol your body needs is made by your liver. Cholesterol in the food you eat (such as eggs, meats and dairy products) is extra, and too much cholesterol is bad for your health.

While some cholesterol is needed for good health, too much cholesterol in your blood can raise your risk of having a heart attack or stroke. The extra cholesterol in your blood may become trapped in your blood vessels that carry blood from your heart to the rest of your body. This accumulation of cholesterol, which is called plaque, in your arteries will cause your arteries to narrow and harden. This condition is known as atherosclerosis. Large deposits of plaque can eventually completely block an artery.

A heart attack can occur if an artery that supplies blood to the muscles in your heart becomes blocked. Similarly, if an artery that supplies blood to your brain becomes blocked, a stroke can occur.

There are 3 kinds of cholesterol in your body. Triglycerides are the main form of fat in the body. The fat stored in your hips or belly is from triglycerides. Fat inside the food you eat is present in molecules. Your body digests these fat molecules and breaks them down into triglycerides.

Your body often does not use all the food you eat immediately, especially with the increasingly large portions Americans eat. The proteins, carbohydrates and fats which are not needed for energy immediately are chemically converted into triglycerides. Then, the triglycerides clump together into clusters that look like blobs. Cholesterol does not dissolve in your blood. Lipoproteins in your blood carry these triglyceride blobs through your bloodstream to their destination. As they make their way through your circulatory system, the fat cells grab them as the pass by and store them for future energy. This stored fat is what you will be trying lose the next time you decide to lose weight.

LDL (low-density lipoprotein) is one member of the lipoprotein family, and another type of cholesterol. Each of the two kinds of lipoprotein behaves differently with the cholesterol it carries. A bit of LDL is a molecule with an outer rim of lipoprotein that encompasses a cholesterol center. You could think of it like a chocolate covered cherry with the cherry representing the cholesterol. LDL molecules are called low-density lipoprotein because they are not as dense as other kinds of cholesterol.

LDL cholesterol is the main cause of atherosclerosis which is the narrowing and hardening of your arteries. Beginning as early as childhood, LDL begins to leave parts of itself on the walls of your arteries as it travels through your bloodstream.

Your immune system recognizes this threat and sends out white blood cells which swallow and try to digest the LDL in an attempt to protect your blood vessels. When LDL is digested, it becomes oxidized and even more toxic. This attracts even more defensive white cells. The result is a continuous inflammation in the affected location of your artery wall. The inflammation keeps on triggering your immune system to send more white cells. Eventually, this cycle causes cholesterol, cells and debris to form a bump on the wall known as plaque. Left unchecked, the artery slowly becomes narrower and narrower and may be blocked all together as plague is deposited there. A sudden rupture in the plague can form a blood clot which may break loose and cause a heart attack or stroke.

HDL is short for high-density lipoprotein. Like LDL, HDL cholesterol is a rim of lipoprotein surrounding a cholesterol center. Remember the chocolate covered cherry? It is called high-density because the HDL cholesterol molecule is denser in comparison to the other types of cholesterol. Research shows that raising your HDL levels reduces your risk of developing heart disease.

HDL, high-density lipoprotein, cholesterol is known as good cholesterol. It scavenges harmful cholesterol from locations where it does not belong and can cause harm. Higher HDL levels reduce the risk for heart disease and low levels increase the risk.

There are quite a few beneficial things HDL can do for your body. HDL works to remove LDL from your bloodstream and carries it to your liver for reprocessing. HDL recycles LDL. In the process, it converts it into a less toxic and harmful form. HDL cholesterol chemically scrubs the inner walls of your blood vessels called the endothelium. Keeping the endothelium clean helps prevent atherosclerosis.

Men aged 35 and older and women aged 45 and older should have their cholesterol checked yearly. Your cholesterol level and your other risk factors for heart disease will determine if you need to have it checked more often. Your doctor will advise you if this is necessary.

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