Let’s face it: health issues can be difficult to understand. Some measurements, from blood pressure to cholesterol, or blood sugar to white blood cell count, can be so scientifically complex that we discount them as mystifying abstracts. 

It can be tough to think “inside” your body. But properly managing your health begins with understanding your health. 

In this edition of Your Health 101, UAB Medical West takes you on a deep dive of cholesterol--what it is, when it’s unhealthy, how it’s tested, and what can make it better. 

What is Cholesterol?

Simply put, cholesterol is a type of fat found in human blood. Classified as a “sterol” or type of lipid, cholesterol is a waxy substance that a healthy liver produces naturally to assist in the creation of new cells. 


If you’ve ever had your cholesterol level taken by a physician, you likely remember that it has another way of entering the body: your diet. Fatty meats, eggs, bacon, cheese, and butter (to name a few) all contain saturated and trans fats which cause your liver to produce more cholesterol than is normal or healthy.

When it’s Unhealthy

Cholesterol comes in two varieties: HDL and LDL. 

HDL stands for “high-density lipoprotein” and is often referred to as “good” cholesterol. HDLs direct cholesterol in the bloodstream back to the liver where it is then discarded. This maintains a healthy supply of cholesterol within the bloodstream at any given time.

LDL stands for “low-density lipoproteins” and is consequently called “bad” cholesterol. While HDLs assist with the natural circulation of cholesterol within the bloodstream, LDLs accumulate on the walls of your arteries, restricting blood flow. 

When dietary trends raise the level of LDLs in the bloodstream, among other factors, our cholesterol levels become unhealthy.

How it’s Tested

Cholesterol tests--also referred to as a lipid panel or profile--focus on four types of fats found in your blood: total cholesterol, HDLs, LDLs, and triglycerides. Triglycerides are leftover calories that have been converted into fat and which add to overall cholesterol levels.

After a blood sample is taken and labs are run, you’ll receive your total cholesterol level in the form of milligrams of cholesterol per deciliter of blood.

According to the Mayo clinic, a total cholesterol measurement below 200 mg/dl is classified as desirable, while 200-239 mg/dl registers as borderline, and above 240 mg/dl is considered high.

How to Lower Cholesterol

Repairing your cholesterol levels starts in the kitchen. By eating heart-healthy and high-fiber foods such as oatmeal, fish, almonds & nuts, and moderating saturated fats and eliminating trans fats, you’ll see a noticeable improvement over time.


As with most other health issues, exercise is key. A more conscientious diet and regular exercise will also lower your weight--another prime factor toward keeping cholesterol levels low. It should come as no surprise that smoking reduces the HDLs in your bloodstream. Abstaining from alcohol or drinking only in moderation will also make a difference.


Think “Inside” Your Body


Now that you have a better understanding of cholesterol, you can more readily envision what’s being discussed by your regular physician.

High cholesterol contributes to your risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke--all serious consequences for ignoring the fats in your bloodstream.

UAB Medical West is here to demystify your health and help you on your path to recovery. If you can’t remember the last time you had your cholesterol checked, now may be the time to make an appointment.  

Visit Your Nearest UAB Medical West Location for a Cholesterol Checkup Today!

High cholesterol may sometimes take a back seat to high blood pressure or other, more pressing measurements. But like high blood pressure, high cholesterol is no joke. Treatment is possible under the guided care of your UAB Medical West physician.  To schedule a quick checkup today, call 205-996-WEST. Serving Hueytown, Hoover, Bessemer, McCalla, and Vance, UAB Medical West is here to demystify your health concerns.