What is Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance found in every cell of the body. It is used to help digest fats, strengthen cell membranes and make hormones. Although cholesterol serves many important functions in the body, too much cholesterol in the blood can be dangerous. When blood cholesterol reaches high levels, it can build up on artery walls, increasing the risk of blood clots, heart attack and stroke.

The bloodstream transports cholesterol throughout the body by special carriers called lipoproteins. The two major lipoproteins are low density lipoproteins (LDL) and high density lipoproteins (HDL). LDL is most often referred to as the “bad” cholesterol whereas HDL is known as the “good” cholesterol. 

LDL: The "Bad" Cholesterol

LDL carries the largest part of the cholesterol found in the blood. It is also the material that contributes most to the buildup of plaque on artery walls. Plaque forms when LDL combines with other substances and sticks to the walls of arteries. Decreasing the amount of LDL cholesterol in the blood is an important part of decreasing risk of heart disease. 

HDL: The "Good" Cholesterol

HDL makes up a smaller portion of the cholesterol carriers. However, HDLs are important in preventing heart disease. HDL helps to remove cholesterol from the blood by carrying it to the liver where it is metabolized. Therefore, it is beneficial to have high levels of HDL in the blood.