National Cholesterol Education Month - September

Cholesterol is a fatty chemical which is an important part of the outer lining (membrane) of cells in the body. Cholesterol is found mainly in foods that come from animals. LDL lipoprotein is the major carrier of cholesterol in the blood. LDL cholesterol is called "bad" cholesterol, because elevated LDL cholesterol is associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease. LDL lipoprotein deposits cholesterol on the artery walls, causing the formation of a hard, thick substance called cholesterol plaque. Over time, cholesterol plaque causes thickening of the artery walls and narrowing of the arteries, a process called atherosclerosis.

Atherosclerotic disease of coronary arteries is called coronary heart disease. Coronary heart disease is the most common cause of death in the United States, accounting for about 600,000 deaths annually. Atherosclerosis can also lead to brain damage from stroke. In addition to smoking and blood pressure, blood cholesterol is a major controllable risk factor for coronary heart disease.

Your blood cholesterol level is affected not only by what you eat but also by how quickly your body makes LDL ("bad") cholesterol and disposes of it. In fact, your body makes all the cholesterol it needs, and it is not necessary to take in any additional cholesterol from the foods you eat.

Many factors help determine whether your LDL-cholesterol level is high or low. The following factors are the most important: