Cholesterol is a soft, white, waxy, substance that your body needs to be healthy. Cholesterol helps digestion, boost mental performance, build strong bones and muscle, regulate blood sugar levels, and protect against infectious disease. When you have too much in your blood, however, it can build up on the walls of your arteries and cause heart disease or stroke. There are no symptoms of high cholesterol. People who do not have cholesterol levels checked may not know they are at-risk.

What you should know

There are two types of cholesterol: good and bad. Too much of one type or not enough of another can put you at risk for coronary heart disease, heart attack, or stroke. A simple blood test can measure levels of both good and bad cholesterol.

  • "Good" Cholesterol - High-density lipoproteins (HDL) absorbs bad cholesterol and carries it back to the liver to remove it from the body. High levels of HDL reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.
  • "Bad" Cholesterol - Low-density lipoproteins (LDL) makes up the majority of the body's cholesterol. High levels of LDL can build up in the arteries and result in heart disease.

Some people inherit genes that causes them to make too much LDL. Eating saturated fat, trans fats, and food containing cholesterol also increases your LDL level.

What you should do to maintain healthy cholesterol levels

  • Eat a heart-healthy diet - limit foods high in trans and saturated fats, cholesterol and salt, and eat low-fat protein sources like lean meat, poultry and fish, and eating vegetables, fruits and whole grains.
  • Maintain a healthy weight for your body type and height.
  • Exercise regularly. Most adults need at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity at least five days per week such as walking briskly, mowing the lawn, dancing, swimming or bicycling. more
  • Don't smoke.
  • Have your blood tested for cholesterol levels. For healthy adults cholesterol should be tested every five years. Testing should be done more often if your total cholesterol is 200 mg/dL or more, if you are a man over age 45 or a woman over age 50, if your HDL (good) cholesterol is less than 40 mg/dL, if you have other risk factors for heart disease and stroke.
  • Talk with your doctor about how to reduce your risk for heart disease.