What Causes Cholesterol?


Quick Answer

Cholesterol is both produced by the body and taken in with food. A sterol (modified steroid) and a lipid, cholesterol is essential for maintaining healthy cell membranes in animals and synthesizing bile acids and vitamin D. Usually the body, especially the liver, produces all the cholesterol the body needs.

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Full Answer

Because lipids don’t dissolve in blood, which is water-based, cholesterol attaches to blood proteins to travel around the body. High-density lipoprotein, or HDL,also called "good cholesterol," travels around the body picking up excess cholesterol and taking it back to the liver. "Bad" cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein, also known as LDL, can stick to the interior walls of blood vessels. Very-low-density liprotein, VLDL, contains the most triglycerides and lipids and can actually swell LDL and narrow blood vessels. Regulating the HDL/LDL ratio – lowering levels of LDLs and raising levels of HDLs – is essential to good heart and circulatory health.

People with high cholesterol can manage their HDL/LDL ratio with diet and medication, by quitting smoking, exercising and eating healthier fats such as mono- and polyunsaturated cooking oils and omega-3 fatty acids found in nuts and fish. However, high cholesterol isn’t necessarily caused by eating saturated fats and other high-cholesterol foods. Some people have a hereditary condition called hypercholesterolemia. Their total cholesterol numbers are high, but their HDL/LDL ratios are usually healthy.

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