Cholesterol is a waxy substance produced by the liver. It's also found in certain animal-derived foods like eggs, steak, butter, and cream. Cholesterol is thought of as being dangerous, but that's only the case when a person has high cholesterol levels. When the body has the right levels of cholesterol, it's able to structure cellular membranes, keep up hormone production, and regulate the metabolic rate efficiently.
High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol is commonly called "good cholesterol." HDL cholesterol helps remove LDL from the body. Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol is better known as "bad cholesterol." LDL can be very harmful, especially if it exists in combination with high triglycerides. HDL numbers should be 40-59 mg/dL, with the higher end of that scale being desirable. If HDL reaches 60 mg/dL or higher, the patient has some extra protection from heart disease. Generally speaking, the higher, the better when it comes to HDL. With LDL, the opposite is true. It's optimal to have LDL readings of less than 100 mg/dL. 100-129 mg/dL is near optimal, 130-159 mg/dL is borderline high, 160-189 mg/dL is high, and 190 mg/dL or more is very high LDL.
The total cholesterol number, which combines HDL and LDL readings, should be less than 200 mg/dL for optimal health. 200-239 mg/dL means borderline high cholesterol, and 240mg/dL and above is high cholesterol.
Diet plays a large role in cholesterol levels. Although saturated fat is the most common culprit when it comes to high cholesterol levels, cholesterol within foods has a significant impact as well. Extra weight can increase a person's risk for heart disease and often increases cholesterol levels as well. A lack of physical activity increases the risk of heart disease and often causes the body to maintain high cholesterol levels, too. Cholesterol levels rise naturally with age, so it's important to watch cholesterol closely during middle age and beyond. High cholesterol levels may also have a genetic component, as it runs in some families. Factors like diet, weight, and exercise levels can be controlled, which allows patients to lower cholesterol naturally. There are also medications that can help lower cholesterol levels.