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A fatty, waxy substance produced by your liver and found in certain foods, cholesterol is necessary for building cells, digesting food, making hormones and contributing to the production of vitamin D. But when you eat too much food containing cholesterol, trans fats, and saturated fats, the liver is prompted to make more cholesterol than the body needs. High cholesterol increases your risk for suffering coronary heart disease, stroke, and heart attack. Diabetes, hypertension, and smoking further exacerbate the risk of cardiovascular disease when cholesterol levels are high.

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1. What are LDL and HDL Cholesterol?

Blood tests measure two kinds of cholesterol: LDL (low-density) and HDL (high-density) cholesterol. LDL cholesterol is unhealthy. HDL cholesterol is not. A lipoprotein that surrounds a cholesterol core, HDL cholesterol is believed to benefit the body by:

  • Eliminating LDL cholesterol
  • Transporting LDL cholesterol to the liver, where it is reprocessed and recycled
  • Maintaining the health of blood vessel inner walls (endothelium) and preventing atherosclerosis

Good levels of HDL cholesterol exceed 60 milligrams per deciliter. If your HDL level is below 40 mg/dL, you may be at risk for heart disease. LDL cholesterol levels should remain below 100 milligrams per deciliter. If your doctor finds your LDL cholesterol over 160, you may need to start taking medications to lower your cholesterol.

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