Ask The Expert: What is Cholesterol?

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Cholesterol is waxy or fatty substance which is very important for the function of our body. Most of the cholesterol is being made in our liver. And then from the liver it has to be transported to different organs of our body. Now because cholesterol is mainly fat, it doesn't dissolve very well in our blood. Therefore, cholesterol has to be packaged in certain particles along with proteins called lipoproteins which allow for cholesterol to be transported between various organs of our body.

And there are two broad categories of lipoproteins: LDL or low-density lipoprotein, HDL or high-density lipoprotein. You want your LDL to be low and you want your HDL to be high. High cholesterol is the number one cause of death in the United States. It's more common than all forms of cancer and all forms of chronic lung disease combined.

In the US, every 40 seconds someone has a heart attack. What causes high cholesterol is having an unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, being overweight, and cigarette smoking. To reduce your LDL, which is the root cause of heart disease and stroke, you want to eliminate trans fats from your diet and you want to reduce saturated fats from your diet. And you want to replace them with healthier fats.

Put simply, you want to have a more plant based diet with emphasis on fruits and vegetables in different colors and you want to avoid processed meats, refined carbohydrates, added sugars, and sweetened beverages. But not everyone will be able to achieve a healthy cholesterol level through diet alone. Therefore it's important to always seek the guidance of your health care professional and not do it all alone.

The good news is that if we manage our cholesterol levels and bring it down through lifestyle changes, through a vast variety of medications which are very safe and have proven to help reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke, then we can lead a healthier life free of cardiovascular disease.