Cholesterol is one of several blood lipids or blood fats. It can be manufactured by the body or eaten. Although the body does need some cholesterol for normal function of nerves and organs, too much can cause problems. The body uses cholesterol to make cell membranes, hormones, and vitamin D. Bile acids, which help digest foods, are also made from cholesterol. However, a high cholesterol level increases the risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. Cholesterol makes up part of the waxy substance known as plaque, which can line the arteries and cause narrowed blood vessels.
Heredity, gender, and age are big factors in cholesterol levels. Women typically have low cholesterol levels compared to men, but their levels rise after menopause. People who are older may have increased cholesterol levels. Being overweight is also linked to higher cholesterol levels. Americans have been told for many years that the cholesterol in their diet was a major factor in high cholesterol levels. Recent research has changed that picture, and the Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee of the U.S. Department of Agriculture indicated that cholesterol in the diet is “not a nutrient of concern.”
Lifestyle changes are often the first step in treating high cholesterol. Although dietary issues are less important from the perspective of cholesterol-containing foods than was once thought, weight loss and exercise can both help to lower cholesterol levels. If lifestyle changes are insufficient, doctors typically recommend medications called nicotinic and fibric acids, cholesterol absorption inhibitors, statins and bile acid sequestrants - to be used alone or in combination.
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