From WikiMD's Health & Wellness Encyclopedia

Cholesterol is a sterol, a combination of a steroid and alcohol, and a lipid that plays a vital role in various biochemical processes within the body. It is a key component of cell membranes and is essential for the proper functioning of cells. Cholesterol is found in all animal tissues and is transported in the blood plasma. It can also be found in lesser amounts in plant membranes. The term "cholesterol" originates from the Greek words chole- (bile), stereos (solid), and the chemical suffix -ol for an alcohol. Cholesterol was first identified in its solid form in gallstones in 1784.


Production and Distribution

Most cholesterol in the body is not derived from dietary sources; rather, it is synthesized internally. Cholesterol concentrations are higher in tissues that produce more of it or have densely-packed membranes, such as the liver, spinal cord, brain, and atheromata.

Role in Biochemical Processes

Cholesterol plays a crucial role in numerous biochemical processes, including:

  • Maintaining cell membrane integrity and fluidity
  • Serving as a precursor for the synthesis of steroid hormones, bile acids, and vitamin D
  • Participating in the metabolism of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K)

Cholesterol and Cardiovascular Disease

Cholesterol is best known for its association with cardiovascular disease, specifically related to various lipoprotein cholesterol transport patterns and elevated levels of cholesterol in the blood.

When discussing cholesterol-related health concerns, doctors often refer to "bad cholesterol" and "good cholesterol." "Bad cholesterol" refers to low-density lipoprotein (LDL), while "good cholesterol" denotes high-density lipoprotein (HDL).

Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL)

LDL cholesterol is often referred to as "bad cholesterol" because it can contribute to the formation of plaque in the arteries, a condition known as atherosclerosis. High levels of LDL cholesterol in the blood can lead to an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases, such as heart attacks and strokes. Reducing LDL cholesterol levels is often a primary target of treatment for individuals with high cholesterol or those at risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL)

HDL cholesterol is commonly referred to as "good cholesterol" because it helps transport excess cholesterol from the arteries and other tissues back to the liver for processing and removal from the body. Higher levels of HDL cholesterol are associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, as it can help prevent the buildup of plaque in the arteries.

Cholesterol Management

Lifestyle modifications, such as a healthy diet, regular physical activity, maintaining a healthy weight, and avoiding tobacco, can significantly impact cholesterol levels and overall cardiovascular health. For some individuals, cholesterol-lowering medications, such as statins, may be prescribed by a healthcare professional to help manage cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Dietary Cholesterol

For many years, dietary cholesterol was thought to be a significant contributor to high blood cholesterol levels. However, recent research has shown that the effect of dietary cholesterol on blood cholesterol levels is relatively minor for most individuals. Instead, the consumption of saturated and trans fats has a more significant impact on blood cholesterol levels. As a result, dietary guidelines have shifted away from focusing on limiting cholesterol intake and now emphasize the importance of reducing saturated and trans fat consumption for better cardiovascular health.

Normal levels

A lipoprotein profile can be done to measure several different kinds of cholesterol as well as triglycerides (another kind of fat found in the blood). Desirable or optimal levels for persons with or without existing heart disease are Total cholesterol: Less than 200 mg/dL.

  • Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol ("bad" cholesterol): Less than 100 mg/dL.
  • High Density Lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol ("good" cholesterol): 40 mg/dL or higher.
  • Triglycerides: Less than 150 mg/dL.

The National Cholesterol Education Program recommends that adults have their cholesterol levels checked at least every 5 years.

See also


Latest articles - Cholesterol

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