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What Is Cholesterol?

Cholesterol 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) do not have any cholesterol.

Cholesterol is in every cell in your body. You need cholesterol to help your brain, skin, and other organs work properly. But, eating too much fat and cholesterol is not good for your body.

Cholesterol floats around in your blood and can get into the walls of your 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 in the blood does not move through the body on its own. It combines with proteins to travel through the bloodstream. Cholesterol and protein traveling together are called lipoproteins.

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.

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. Call it "lousy" cholesterol — "L" for lousy.

  • HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, or "good cholesterol," carries the cholesterol in the blood back to the liver, where it is broken down. Remember it as "healthy" cholesterol — "H" for healthy.

You can keep your cholesterol from getting high by:

  • eating a healthy diet that includes lots of fruit, vegetables, and whole grains

  • limiting drinks and foods that have a lot of fat or sugar, like sugary drinks, treats, and fried foods

  • getting plenty of exercise - at least 60 minutes every day!

September is National Cholesterol Education Month, a good time to get your cholesterol checked and to learn about ways to lower it if it is high. Take this quiz to test your cholesterol knowledge.

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