Cholesterol | Overview


What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a waxy substance your body uses to protect nerves, make cell tissues, and produce certain hormones. Your liver makes all the cholesterol your body needs. Your body also gets cholesterol directly from the food you eat (such as eggs, meats, and dairy products). Too much cholesterol can have negative impacts on your health.

What is the difference between “good” cholesterol and “bad” cholesterol?

Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is often called “bad” cholesterol. It delivers cholesterol to the body. High-density lipoprotein (HDL) is often called “good” cholesterol. It removes cholesterol from the bloodstream.

This explains why too much LDL cholesterol is bad for the body, and why a high level of HDL cholesterol is good. For example, if your total cholesterol level is high because of a high LDL level, you may be at higher risk of heart disease or stroke. But, if your total cholesterol level is high only because of a high HDL level, you're probably not at higher risk.

Triglycerides are another type of fat in your blood. When you eat more calories than your body can use, it turns the extra calories into triglycerides.

Changing your lifestyle (diet and exercise) can improve your cholesterol levels, lower LDL and triglycerides, and raise HDL.

What should my cholesterol levels be?

Your ideal cholesterol level will depend on your risk for heart desease.

  • Total cholesterol level - less than 200 is best, but depends on your HDL and LDL levels
  • LDL cholesterol levels - less than 130 is best, but this depends on your risk for heart disease
  • HDL cholesterol levels - 60 or higher reduces your risk for heart disease
  • Triglycerides - less than 150 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl) is best

Written by editorial staff

Reviewed/Updated: 01/16
Created: 01/96