Cholesterol is a soft, white waxy substance found in every human cell and is essential for the proper functioning of the body. Nearly 75 percent of the cholesterol found in the body is made by the liver; only less than 25 percent comes from the food we eat. Cholesterol is important for the body in order to undertake its various functions; in fact the brain accounts for around 25 percent of the cholesterol found in the body.
Cholesterol is measured in different categories: Total cholesterol, Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL), High Density Lipoprotein (HDL) and Triglycerides. Also making up your total cholesterol count are Very Low Density Lipoprotein (VDL).
When you get your blood test done, your total cholesterol is your LDL, HDL, VDL, and 1/5th of your Triglyceride totals. However, the only two numbers that matter and are most predictive of potential heart attack risk are your HDL and Triglyceride numbers and their ratios to your total cholesterol. Triglycerides are a measurement of fat in your blood not cholesterol.
Ironically, LDL and HDL are not cholesterol. They are lipoproteins used to transport cholesterol in the body, as cholesterol is not soluble in blood plasma. LDL brings cholesterol to your body tissues and HDL brings any unused or excess cholesterol back to your liver for processing. Labeling different lipoproteins as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ cholesterol is not only technically wrong, they also give people the wrong message. Both lipoproteins are good because without them our body would not survive.
LDL has two different types of particles — a big fluffy non-oxidized version called LipoB and a smaller oxidized and dangerous version called LipoA. Oxidation of your LDL comes from two things — too much sugar in your diet and having levels of triglycerides which are too high.
The struggle for most people is balancing the different cholesterol levels. While total and LDL cholesterol levels should be kept low, having more HDL cholesterol can offer some protection against a person developing heart-related illnesses including heart attacks and strokes.
Cholesterol levels tend to vary by age, weight, and gender. Typically, men tend to have higher levels of cholesterol throughout life than women. A woman's cholesterol often increases when she goes through menopause.
Children are less likely to have high cholesterol and need to undertake cholesterol checks only once or twice before the age of 18, but not during puberty. However, if the child comes from a family that has a history of heart disease or is overweight or has other health conditions, they need to follow their doctor’s recommendations.
For adults over the age of 20 and who are without any health issues, seeing a doctor every 4 to 6 years should suffice. However, people who are overweight, have a family history of heart disease, or if their cholesterol tests come back with high or borderline high levels of total and LDL cholesterol, should seek their doctor’s advice and take steps to bring levels of cholesterol down.
The best recommendation for children and adolescents to keep cholesterol levels in check is living a healthful, active lifestyle. This includes eating a healthful diet and getting plenty of exercise. Sedentary, overweight children who eat a diet high in processed foods are most likely to have high cholesterol. Children who have a family history of high cholesterol may also be at risk.
Generally, the earlier an adult starts living a healthful lifestyle, the better for their cholesterol levels. Cholesterol levels build over time. A sudden change in lifestyle will help eventually, but the older a person is, the less impact they will see in cholesterol levels.
High cholesterol at any age puts a person at risk for heart disease, heart attack, and strokes. These risks only increase over time, especially for adults who are not taking action to reduce their cholesterol buildup.