Cholesterol Home > What Is Cholesterol?

Many people are curious about what cholesterol is. Cholesterol is a substance your body uses to hold cells together and to make vitamin D, hormones, and substances that help digest foods. Your body manufactures most of it; the rest comes from animal products, such as meat and whole milk. While your body needs this substance to work properly, too much of it can cause problems.

What Is Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a soft, waxy substance found in all of your body's cells. Your body needs cholesterol in order to work properly. This is because your body uses it to hold cells together. Your body also uses it to make hormones, vitamin D, and substances that help you digest foods.
 
If too much cholesterol gets into your blood, it can cause problems. This is known as high cholesterol. Other names for high cholesterol include hypercholesterolemia or hyperlipidemia.
 

Sources of Cholesterol

Cholesterol comes from two places. Your body actually makes most of the cholesterol it needs in the liver. The rest of the cholesterol in your body comes from the food you eat.
 
Cholesterol is only made by animals, so you can only get it by eating animal products, such as:
 
  • Chicken
  • Meat
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Butter
  • Cheese
  • Whole milk.
     
These foods can provide you with more than enough cholesterol. You will not find cholesterol in anything that comes from a plant. For example, cholesterol-free foods include fruits, vegetables, or whole grains.
 

How Does It Move Through the Blood?

In order to get to all of your cells, cholesterol needs to travel through the bloodstream. But because cholesterol is a fat, it separates from the blood similar to the way that oil separates from water. To keep this from happening, proteins form a shell around the cholesterol, making a "cholesterol complex." It is then released into the bloodstream and travels to where it needs to go.
 
A protein that is linked to cholesterol to form this cholesterol complex is called a "lipoprotein." There are two main types of lipoproteins. One is good and the other can be bad, although not always. You have probably heard about "good cholesterol" and "bad cholesterol."
 
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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