- What is cholesterol?
- Is high cholesterol bad?
- What causes high cholesterol?
- What are the symptoms of high cholesterol?
- How can doctors tell if I have high cholesterol?
- How do doctors treat high cholesterol?
- Resources In This Article
Cholesterol is a type of fat. Fats are also called lipids.
Your body uses cholesterol to build important parts of cells and to make certain digestive juices. Your body needs cholesterol. But having too much cholesterol in your blood (high cholesterol) for a long time can cause health problems.
Having a high level of LDL cholesterol for a long time causes hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis). Your arteries clog up with a mixture of cholesterol, fats, and other substances. Your blood has trouble flowing through the clogged vessels. Sometimes blood clots form in the clogged areas and shut off blood flow completely. Shutting off blood flow to your heart causes a heart attack. Shutting off blood flow to your brain causes a stroke.
Having a high level of HDL cholesterol makes it less likely that you will get atherosclerosis. That's why HDL is called good cholesterol.
Some people's body makes too much cholesterol, no matter what they eat. This kind of high cholesterol problem runs in families.
High cholesterol can also be caused by:
Eating a lot of foods high in fat and cholesterol
Not being active
Drinking too much alcohol
Taking certain medicines
You don't have to be fat to have high cholesterol.
High cholesterol can be treated by:
Foods that are low in saturated fat and cholesterol include:
Fruits and vegetables (whether they're fresh, frozen, canned, or dried)
Lean meats, like fish, skinless chicken and turkey, and lean types of beef, lamb, pork, and veal
Whole-grain breads and cereals, such as oatmeal, bran, rye, and multigrain
Low-fat dairy products, such as skim or 1% milk, nonfat or low-fat yogurt, and low-fat cheeses
Unsaturated vegetable oils, such as canola, olive, corn, safflower, sesame, soybean, and sunflower
Foods that are high in saturated fat and cholesterol include:
Butter, cream, or saturated fats and oils
Sausages, cold cuts, hot dogs, organ meats, spareribs, egg yolks, and fatty types of beef, lamb, and pork
Store-bought baked goods, such as pies, cakes, doughnuts, and high-fat cookies and crackers
High-fat dairy products, like whole milk, cream, half-and-half, whole-milk yogurt, most cheeses, butter, and ice cream
Oils that are high in saturated fat, such as coconut oil, palm oil, lard, and bacon fat