What Is Cholesterol and Is It Unhealthy?

Cholesterol is a waxy substance found in your body and in animal products like meat, eggs and dairy.

It plays important roles in the production of hormones, vitamin D and the bile necessary for digesting fats.

Cholesterol is an essential component of every cell in your body, giving cell membranes strength and flexibility (1).

Your liver produces all of the cholesterol that your body needs to function, but cholesterol can also be introduced through the consumption of animal products.

Since cholesterol doesn’t mix well with liquids (blood), it’s transported by particles called lipoproteins, including low-density and high-density lipoprotein — or LDL and HDL.

LDL is often referred to as “bad cholesterol,” as it’s associated with the plaque buildup in arteries, while HDL (“good cholesterol”) helps excrete excess cholesterol from your body (2).

When you consume extra cholesterol, your body compensates by reducing the amount of cholesterol that it naturally makes.

In contrast, when dietary cholesterol intake is low, your body increases cholesterol production to ensure there is always enough of this vital substance (3).

Only about 25% of cholesterol in your system comes from dietary sources. The rest is produced by your liver (4).

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