We hear a lot about cholesterol and the importance of knowing our "numbers,"
but do we really know what cholesterol is and how it affects our bodies?
The cardiac experts at RWJBarnabas Health encourage individuals to take
time to understand cholesterol and talk to their physician about appropriate
screenings and cholesterol management.
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a fat-like, waxy substance that can be found in all parts
of your body. It aids in the production of cell membranes, many hormones,
and vitamin D. The cholesterol in your blood comes from two sources: the
foods you eat and your liver. However, your liver makes all the cholesterol
your body needs.
What's the difference between LDL and HDL?
Cholesterol and other fats are transported in your blood stream in the
form of spherical particles called lipoproteins. The two most commonly
known lipoproteins are low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and high-density
Low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or "bad" cholesterol, is a type
of fat in the blood that contains the most cholesterol. It can contribute
to the formation of plaque buildup in the arteries, known as atherosclerosis,
which is linked to increased risk of heart attack and stroke. You want
your LDL to be low. To help lower it avoid foods high in saturated fat,
dietary cholesterol, and excess calories; exercise; maintain a healthy
weight; and stop smoking.
High-density lipoprotein (HDL), or "good" cholesterol, helps
to remove cholesterol from the blood, preventing the fatty buildup and
formation of plaque. You want your HDL to be as high as possible. You
can raise HDL by exercising for at least 30 minutes five times a week,
kicking the cigarette habit, avoiding saturated fat intake and decreasing
What is a healthy blood cholesterol level?
High blood cholesterol is a significant risk factor for heart disease and
stroke. Lowering it through increased physical activity, weight loss,
smoking cessation, and proper diet decreases that risk. Blood cholesterol,
however, is very specific to each individual and, for that reason, a full
lipid profile is an important part of your medical history and important
information for your physician to have. In general, healthy cholesterol
levels are as follows:
- LDL—less than 100 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl) is considered desirable
- HDL—greater than 40 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl)
- A total cholesterol level below 200 mg/dl is considered desirable
For a referral to a RWJBarnabas Health primary care physician or cardiologist,
call 1-888-724-7123 or visit barnabashealth.org/physician-directory.
For more information about cholesterol, visit the RWJBarnabas Health online
Health Library at