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What is Cholesterol? Here's All You Need To Know

What is Cholesterol?|Diagnosis|Treatment and Management|Key Takeaways
What is Cholesterol? Here's All You Need To Know

What is Cholesterol?

Cholesterol has gained a bad reputation when it comes to healthy living and eating. Health professionals often tell patients to be vigilant and watch their cholesterol intake.

This is especially true when celebrations are in order and people are eager to have family reunions and taste lola’s signature dishes.

But telling someone to “watch your cholesterol” is not very helpful if they don’t know what to look out for.

If you are looking to learn more or gain some insight as to why your doctor recommended you to limit your intake of lechon during fiestas, this article is a good starting point.

Cholesterol, by definition, is a sterol lipid that is synthesized in the liver (“chole-” generally refers to bile which is also produced by the liver).

It also comes from food sources, especially animal products like meat and eggs.

It is an essential substance because it maintains cell structure and is the precursor for many hormones, like testosterone and estrogen.

Without getting too deep into its chemistry, it’s important to know the different types and their functions.

Good versus Bad Cholesterol

what is cholesterol

More likely than not, you have heard of “good” and “bad” cholesterol.

Good cholesterol refers to high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and it is considered the more beneficial cholesterol due to its ability to catch cholesterol from other areas of the body and carry them back to the liver where it can be metabolized.

Bad cholesterol can be considered the opposite of HDL, as it is low-density lipoprotein (LDL).

LDL is the type of cholesterol that can enter cells in the body tissues, therefore it is still needed; however, too much LDL can increase your risk of cardiovascular diseases such as hypertension, heart attack, and stroke.

In contrast to HDL which collects extra cholesterol, LDL is the type that can stick to blood vessels and form plaques.

Good vs. Bad Cholesterol: What You Need To Know


There’s no need to panic or worry. What matters is first knowing your baseline levels.

After knowing where you stand, your doctor will work with you to attain your optimal lipid profile.

When should I get checked?

While the risk of cardiovascular disease is higher as people age, hitting a peak around middle-age, the American Heart Association recommends lipid profile tests at age 9 to 11, and again at the ages of 17 and 21.

Adults aged 20 years old and above should have a general check up with lipid profile test done, as well as determine if there are risk factors present.

After this, another check up with testing should be done every 4 to 6 years.

After the age of 40, these test become all the more important, especially if you have increased risk of cardiovascular disease or are starting to show signs and symptoms of high cholesterol.

what is cholesterol

What does the test check for?

Normally, you would get a cholesterol test, lipid profile, or lipid panel test done to determine the current levels of fat and cholesterols.

Depending on your doctor’s request and the available lab equipment in the facility, the lipid panel test can check the levels of:

  • Total cholesterol
  • HDL
  • LDL
  • Triglycerides (fat)
  • Ratios of triglycerides to cholesterol

The test is done by extracting a sample of blood from a vein in your arm or hand, similar to other blood chemistry tests such as a complete blood count (CBC).

These tests may be done using the same sample of blood. You will be required to be fasted overnight (8 to 12 hours) before having your blood drawn.

What is considered normal?

Like all medical tests, there is no one true value for each test.

What is normal for one person may be considered high for another person, although there are typically set ranges between age groups and sexes.

Total cholesterol normal range: <200 mg/dL

HDL normal range: 45-70 mg/dL (males) and 50-90 mg/dL (females)

Total cholesterol levels above 240 mg/dL are considered “high”.

Women naturally have a higher body fat percentage as compared to men, so the normal cholesterol and triglyceride level ranges take this into consideration.

Age also plays a role in determining normal cholesterol levels.

Treatment and Management

In almost every case, your doctor will suggest that you adopt a heart-healthy diet if you have borderline or high cholesterol or have risk factors that predispose you to cardiovascular disease.

Diets higher in fiber, lean protein, and omega-3 fatty acids are the best choices.

Learn more by reading this article:

What’s the Best Diet To Lower Cholesterol?

Regular exercise is encouraged along with a balanced diet to improve your lipid profile and overall health.

Management Tips

If you are overweight, losing a few kilograms can significantly improve your heart health and lower your risk of disease.

If diet and exercise are not enough, your doctor may prescribe medications, such as statins or fibrates.

It is important that you follow your doctor’s orders when taking these medications and to communicate with your health team if you experience any adverse effects such as muscle cramping.

In addition, avoiding excessive alcohol consumption, quitting tobacco use, and getting enough sleep could also help manage cholesterol as well as lower the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Key Takeaways

When it comes to cholesterol there is more to it than avoiding fatty food and other “bad” dietary sources.

It is still an essential nutrient and component of our cells and cannot be fully eliminated from our lives.

The first step to staying healthy is to know your lipid profile, then focus on improving your HDL. And then limit your intake of triglycerides and LDLs.

There is no need to completely cut out the food you enjoy, but watch your portions and consume them in moderation.

Work with your doctor to set goals and explore treatment options that are best for your lifestyle.

Learn more about heart health, here.


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Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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Written by Stephanie Nicole Nera, RPh, PharmD Updated Nov 01, 2020