High Cholesterol: Overview

Cholesterol is a waxy substance that's manufactured in your liver. Among many other things, it helps your body produce hormones, bile acid and vitamin D. Although your body makes all the cholesterol you need, you also consume cholesterol in animal-based foods, such as meat, seafood and dairy products. Cholesterol is carried through your bloodstream in particles called lipoproteins. There are two kinds of cholesterol: high-density cholesterol (HDL) and low-density cholesterol (LDL). HDL cholesterol is often referred to as "good" cholesterol. LDL is often referred to as "bad" cholesterol.

Generally speaking, the higher your HDL levels high and the lower your LDL levels, the less likely you are to develop heart disease. Elevated cholesterol is only one risk factor for heart disease. To minimize your cholesterol-related risk for heart disease, your HDL should be above 60 if you're a woman and above 50 if you're a man. In addition, your LDL should be below 100, and your total cholesterol should be no higher than 200.

Another key number in your lipid count is triglycerides, sometimes called "trigs." Trigs give you energy, but those that aren't used for energy remain in the blood. When that happens, trig levels rise and can contribute to hardening of the arteries. Your triglyceride level should be under 150.