Chances are you have heard of cholesterol, but you may be confused about the factors that can impact cholesterol levels. An indicator for risk of heart disease, the National Cholesterol Education Program recommends that all adults over age 20 check their cholesterol levels at least every five years, more frequently for older adults and people considered at risk for heart disease. Children who are at risk for heart disease — those who have a family history, are overweight or obese — should also be checked. Testing is done through a fasting blood test.
dietary vs. blood
The two types of cholesterol are dietary and blood. Dietary cholesterol is found in animal products, and blood cholesterol is mostly produced by the liver and is found in the bloodstream. Cholesterol is needed for our body to function properly, but adults are able to produce all of the cholesterol they need without consuming any dietary cholesterol. Young children, on the other hand, need some dietary cholesterol for proper development, which is why whole milk is recommended for children ages 1 to 2.
A cholesterol test will check your blood cholesterol. The process will provide a total cholesterol level, along with a high-density lipoprotein (HDL) number and an low-density lipoprotein (LDL) number. These lipoproteins are actually vehicles for cholesterol to move throughout the body. I find it easiest to remember the good cholesterol from the bad by thinking of LDL as "lousy cholesterol" and HDL as "happy cholesterol."
LDL takes cholesterol from the liver to cells throughout your body, depositing some cholesterol on the walls of your arteries, causing them to harden and eventually become blocked. If your LDL number is high, your risk for heart disease is high.
Your HDL collects cholesterol throughout the body and returns it to the liver, removing it from the body. A high HDL reduces your risk for heart disease.