Cholesterol is a type of lipid found in the blood and in the diet. It has many functions and is a structural part of all body cells. It is an essential component of brain and nerve tissue. Cholesterol is needed to form hormones, bile, and vitamin D. Many foods contain cholesterol, but primarily it is found in foods of animal origin. Some meats are higher in cholesterol than others.

The body needs cholesterol, but it produces all of the cholesterol that it needs. It is almost impossible to avoid consuming outside sources of cholesterol, but it is possible and advisable to limit cholesterol intake by avoiding foods high in cholesterol. Elevated levels of LDL in the blood can increase the risk of artery and heart disease.

The human body produces two types of cholesterol: low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL).

LDL: The Bad Cholesterol

LDL is cholesterol that usually enters the human body through consuming food that contains cholesterol. LDL is considered the “bad cholesterol” because it bonds with triglycerides, another lipid, and stores it within the tissues. This is the leading cause of plaque in the arteries and can lead to restricted blood flow and possible cardiac arrest. This process takes place over a number of years with continuous eating of saturated fats, smoking, diabetes, and high blood pressure.

Cholesterol plaque in artery

Cholesterol plaque in the artery

HDL: The Good Cholesterol

HDL is produced when a person exercises, and it is considered the “good cholesterol.” HDL also bonds with triglycerides, but it is then processed by the body, added to feces, and expelled through the colon. In other words, HDL helps the body to process excess triglycerides thus managing the amount of excess fat in the overall system. The best way to increase HDL in the body is to do weight-bearing exercises regularly. Example would be to put weights on ankles when exercising or carrying a pound of something in each hand (a lb. can, spaghetti package) when walking.

Video: LDL and HDL Cholesterol

Lipid Panel

A Lipid Panel is series of tests that measures the amount of cholesterol in the blood. A small sample of blood is drawn from the patient for this test. One number is for “total cholesterol.” This number will show the total fats in the blood. The HDL will show the good fats; LDL will show the bad fats; Triglycerides will show good or bad fats depending on the number above or below 150.

Adult Blood Cholesterol and Triglyceride Target Numbers:

  • Total Cholesterol < 200 mg/dl
  • Total HDL > 35
  • Total LDL < 100
  • Total Triglycerides < 150