It is Heart Health month, and yes I do think the American Heart Association picked February on purpose. It is hard for me to not think about my heart with every heart I cut out for the Valentines my daughters are making.
Cholesterol is a big factor in whether your heart is healthy or not. The truth is our bodies need cholesterol to make hormones, vitamin D and substances to digest food. Yet, they produce enough of this waxy, fat-like substance on their own. Since cholesterol is also in the foods you eat you need to watch your intake.
There are two kinds of cholesterol: HDL and LDL. We will start with the good kind - HDL. I find this is hard to remember which is which, but just think "healthy" for HDL. Basically HDL ushers LDL cholesterol to your liver where your body processes and disposes of it.
LDL (think "little devil" to help you remember) cholesterol leads to a buildup of cholesterol in arteries - since blood is basically watery and LDL is waxy so they don't mix (like oil and water). The higher the LDL level in your blood, the greater chance you have of getting heart disease. That is why it is bad.
Folks can have high cholesterol without knowing it, so it is a good idea to have your cholesterol levels checked in your 20s and then again every decade to make sure you are staying in healthy levels. Optimally you want your cholesterol to be under 200 mg/dL and you're at risk if it is 240 mg/dL. Anything in between is considered borderline.