Section: Barnabas Health Heart Center News

Cholesterol: Understanding the Highs and Lows


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 lipoproteins (HDL)

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 body weight.

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

For more information about cholesterol, visit the RWJBarnabas Health online Health Library at

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