Cholesterol is a type of fat (lipid), found both in the body and in certain foods. It has spent its fair share of time in the news because of its association with heart disease and stroke, but in fact, cholesterol is a vital substance, found in the blood and in every cell of the body. It is one of the building blocks of cell membranes, and the body uses it to make vitamin D and hormones.

However, too much cholesterol in the blood can increase your risk of heart disease and stroke by leading to a buildup of plaque on artery walls. Eventually, the plaque can narrow the arteries (atherosclerosis), reducing blood flow. If a blood clot forms and blocks an artery to the heart artery, a heart attack can occur. If a blood clot blocks an artery to or in the brain, a stroke results.

The trick is to ensure that you have the right balance of cholesterol in the blood. If your cholesterol level is too high, making simple dietary and lifestyle changes – such as eating less fat and increasing physical activity – can lower your cholesterol, and therefore your risk of heart disease and stroke.

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