Why Your Heart Wants You to Pay Attention to Your Cholesterol

Cholesterol can be a tricky thing to understand, especially when you’re not exactly sure what your levels mean and how they can affect the various aspects of your body – including your heart.

So, what is cholesterol? What does it have to do with heart disease? Simply put, cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance found in your blood. It is essential to certain cell functions in your body, such as digesting foods, producing hormones, converting vitamin D in the skin and creating new cells. Your liver makes cholesterol for your body, but you also get cholesterol from eating certain foods, such as meat, poultry and full-fat dairy. Cholesterol travels through the bloodstream in "packages" called lipoproteins. There are two kinds:

  • Low-density lipoproteins (LDLs), also known as "bad" cholesterol, join with other substances to form a thick, hard deposit, called plaque on the walls of your arteries.
  • High-density lipoproteins (HDLs), also known as "good" cholesterol, remove cholesterol from the bloodstream and the artery walls.

If the total amount of cholesterol in your blood is too high, more plaque builds up over time, eventually limiting the flow of oxygen-rich blood to your heart. This can cause coronary heart disease (CHD) to develop, which can lead to even more serious health issues, like blood clots, heart attack or a stroke.

Most of the time, you can control your cholesterol levels through a healthy diet and lifestyle, which will lower your risk of cardiovascular health issues. For a small percentage of people, however, high cholesterol is sometimes caused by genetically inherited cholesterol-related disorders that cannot be controlled with diet or other lifestyle changes. That’s why it’s so important to know your numbers and monitor them on an ongoing basis.

Talk to your doctor about what HDL and LDL levels are healthy, and what can be done to lower risks. Routine blood tests can show your cholesterol levels . To learn about what other factors may be affecting your risk for cardiovascular disease, take our free heart health assessment.

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