Cholesterol is a naturally occurring substance found in all foods from animals such as meat, poultry, seafood, eggs and dairy products. Cholesterol is not present in foods that come from plants.
Humans also make cholesterol in our bodies. Dietary cholesterol, as well as saturated and trans fats in food, may be absorbed by the body and raise blood cholesterol.
Our bodies need cholesterol. It is a building block for hormones and a component of cell membranes. The goal of treating patients with elevated blood cholesterol levels is not to eliminate cholesterol from the blood, but to achieve and maintain a safe level.
Doctors generally recommend that total blood cholesterol be below 170 mg/dl for children 2 to 19 years old.
If an initial blood test shows a high total cholesterol level, the next step is to do a more detailed test to find out the balance of two types of cholesterol: LDL and HDL. This is called a lipid profile, which is typically done after a 10- to 12-hour period of fasting without anything to eat or drink.
When your doctor gets the results from a fasting lipid profile, it will have numbers for total cholesterol, triglyceride, HDL and LDL cholesterol. (In some instances you will get a VLDL level as well.)
Total cholesterol measures three particles found in the blood:
- High density lipoprotein (HDL)
- Low density lipoprotein (LDL)
- Very low density lipoprotein (VLDL)
HDLs and LDLs are two different kinds of cholesterol particles, and VLDLs are rich in triglycerides (or fats). Together, cholesterol and triglycerides are known as lipids.
HDL and LDL particles are covered with a protein that lets them dissolve in the bloodstream. LDL particles, commonly called “bad” cholesterol, carry most of the body's cholesterol and can begin to form plaque in the blood vessels.
HDLs, also called "good" cholesterol, seem to offer protection against cardiovascular disease by carrying some of the cholesterol out of the bloodstream and preventing it from being deposited.
Triglycerides are fats circulating in your bloodstream. These fats can form from extra calories and sugar in your diet. Alcohol can also raise triglycerides. Choosing whole grains, reducing added sugars, including healthy fats, exercising and maintaining a healthy weight can help lower your triglycerides.