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Welcome to the Cholesterol Health Channel by eMedTV. Cholesterol is a soft, waxy substance found in all of your cells. Your body uses cholesterol to hold cells together and to make hormones, vitamin D, and substances that help digest foods. Most of the cholesterol your body needs is produced in the liver; the rest comes from the food you eat. While your body needs cholesterol to work properly, too much cholesterol in the blood can cause problems.
Cholesterol's Link to Heart Disease
High cholesterol is one of the risk factors for developing heart disease. An excess of cholesterol in the blood doesn't immediately lead to heart disease; high cholesterol causes problems after many years. When there is too much cholesterol in the blood, it builds up on artery walls. This buildup (known as plaque) can narrow --and eventually block -- any of the blood vessels in your body, including the coronary arteries that carry blood to the heart.
Determining Your Cholesterol Levels
A blood cholesterol test is the only way to determine if you have high cholesterol. It is recommended that people get a fasting cholesterol test every 5 years, but people with risk factors for heart disease should be tested more frequently. It's best to have a cholesterol test known as a "lipoprotein profile" (or "lipo" profile). This test is performed after a 9- to 12-hour fast and measures total cholesterol, low density lipoprotein (LDL), high density lipoprotein (HDL), and triglycerides.
Healthy Levels of Cholesterol
What are healthy cholesterol levels? A healthy cholesterol level for total cholesterol is under 200 mg/dL; however, total cholesterol merely provides an overview of your cholesterol level. Most cholesterol-lowering treatment decisions are based on HDL and LDL cholesterol levels, not total cholesterol. Generally, healthy cholesterol levels for LDL would be under 100 mg/dL, but what's considered a healthy level depends on your risk factors for heart disease. Healthy cholesterol levels for HDL are above 40 mg/dL; the higher the numbers, the better.
High Cholesterol Foods
Foods high in cholesterol are animal-based products such as meat, eggs, butter, cheese, and whole milk. The foods highest in cholesterol are egg yolks and liver. If you are trying to lower your cholesterol, simply avoiding foods that are high in cholesterol is not enough -- it's also important to limit your consumption of foods that are high in saturated fat, trans fat, or both. While not technically considered "high cholesterol foods," some plant-based foods (such as coconuts and palm oil) are high in saturated fat, which can elevate cholesterol levels more than dietary cholesterol itself.
Researchers have discovered certain cholesterol-lowering foods. Cholesterol-lowering foods include those containing plant sterols, plant stanols, or soluble fiber. Foods fortified with plant sterols or stanols help block absorption of cholesterol from the diet. Scientists believe that when soluble fiber is digested, it sticks to cholesterol and prevents it from being absorbed. Up until recently, foods high in soy protein were also thought to be cholesterol-lowering foods; however, recent cholesterol research has shown that this is not the case.
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