Cholesterol isn’t entirely the health villain it’s made out to be,
its name darkly linked to heart attack, stroke, and other types
of cardiovascular disease.

Our bodies need cholesterol,
which is a type of lipid (another name for fat) to make cell
membranes, key hormones like testosterone and estrogen,
the bile acids needed to digest and absorb fats, and vitamin
D. Cholesterol is so important to the body that the liver and
intestines make it from scratch.

What is “bad” about cholesterol isn’t the substance itself — in
fact, we can’t live without it — but how much of it is in the

The body packages cholesterol in two main particles: low-
density lipoprotein (LDL), the so-called bad cholesterol, and

high-density lipoprotein (HDL), the so-called good cholesterol.
Too much LDL in the bloodstream helps create the harmful
cholesterol-filled plaques that grow inside arteries. Such
plaques are responsible for angina (chest pain with exertion
or stress), heart attacks, and most types of stroke.

What causes a person’s LDL level to be high? Most of the
time diet is the key culprit. Eating foods rich in saturated fats,
trans fats, and easily digested carbohydrates boost LDL.
Genes are sometimes at the root of high cholesterol, and
some medications can boost LDL.

If you have high cholesterol, making changes in your diet can
help bring it down into the healthy range. Exercise can help
boost the level of protective HDL. Several types of
medication, notably the family of drugs known as statins, can
powerfully lower LDL. Depending on your cardiovascular
health, your doctor may recommend taking a statin.