What Is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol (say: kuh-LES-tuh-rawl) is a type of fat found in your blood.
Your liver makes cholesterol for your body. You also can get cholesterol from the foods you eat. Meat, fish, eggs, butter, cheese, and milk all have cholesterol in them. Fruits, vegetables, and grains (like oatmeal) don't have any cholesterol.
You Need a Little, Not a Lot
Cholesterol is in every cell in your body. You need cholesterol to help your brain, skin, and other organs do their jobs. But eating too much fat and cholesterol is a bad idea.
Cholesterol floats around in your blood and can get into the walls of the blood vessels. This can cause the blood vessels to get stiffer, narrower, or clogged. If the clogging gets worse over many years, it can cause a heart attack or stroke in adults.
Cholesterol can start to build up in childhood. Doctors can find out what your cholesterol level is by taking a little of your blood and testing it.
What Are the Types of Cholesterol?
Cholesterol in the blood doesn't move through the body on its own. It combines with proteins to travel through the bloodstream. Cholesterol and protein traveling together are called lipoproteins (say: lie-poh-PRO-teenz).
The two main types of cholesterol are:
LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, or "bad cholesterol," carries cholesterol from the liver into the bloodstream, where it can stick to the blood vessels.
HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, or "good cholesterol," carries the cholesterol in the blood back to the liver, where it is broken down.
Here's a way to remember the difference: the LDL cholesterol is the bad kind, so call it "lousy" cholesterol — "L" for lousy. The HDL is the good cholesterol, so remember it as "healthy" cholesterol — "H" for healthy.
How Can I Prevent High Cholesterol?
Here are a few things you can do to keep your cholesterol under control:
- Eat a healthy diet that includes lots of fruit, vegetables and whole grains.
- Limit drinks and foods that have a lot of fat or sugar, like sugary drinks, treats, and fried foods.
- Get plenty of exercise. Experts recommend at least 60 minutes every day!
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
© 1995- KidsHealth® All rights reserved.
Images provided by The Nemours Foundation, iStock, Getty Images, Veer, Shutterstock, and Clipart.com.