Poor cholesterol – it’s doomed to be misunderstood. The fact is, cholesterol is necessary to make cell membranes and even hormones. Your body produces cholesterol. Your diet also contributes but it’s not so much the cholesterol you eat as the saturated fat in your diet that raises your levels. Even more confusing, some cholesterol is “bad” (LDL attacks arteries and contributes to plaque buildup), while some is “good” (HDL escorts the bad stuff out of the body). Only about half of people who have heart attacks have high cholesterol, but it’s still important to keep your levels healthy. For every 1-point drop in LDL, heart attack risk falls by 2 percent; every 1-point rise in HDL reduces your risk of a fatal heart attack by 3 percent. For most people, a high-fat diet plus a sedentary lifestyle combine to raise levels of “bad” LDL and decrease “good” HDL. Cholesterol levels also rise with age. Your genes play a role, too: A few people inherit a genetic mutation that raises total cholesterol sky-high (over 600 mg/dl).
Symptoms – Usually none, if you have inherited familial hypercholesterolemia, you may develop small, bumpy cholesterol deposits on your elbows, knees, and buttocks. It you have them, have your cholesterol checked right away; diet and exercise can help, but it’s likely you’ll need medications to bring levels down to normal.