Dietary cholesterol refers to the cholesterol introduced into the body through a person's diet, or the food he eats. This makes up a percentage of a person's blood cholesterol, or the total amount of cholesterol that is found circulating in the bloodstream. Most of the blood cholesterol is actually produced by the body itself, and therefore is not from the diet. When a substance is produced by the body, it is referred to as endogenous.
Cholesterol is a type of fat, or lipid. It is waxy and soft. This substance, in the proper amounts, is necessary for the proper functioning of the body. It helps form the membranes of cells. Cholesterol also plays a role in producing hormones and vitamin D, as well as bile, which aids in the digestion of dietary fat.
Sources of dietary cholesterol come from animal-based products. Meat, fish, and dairy products — such as eggs, cheese, and milk — all contain this substance. Processed goods that usually use these foods include bakery goods, such as cakes and muffins, as well as fried foods and fast foods.
Generally, the body does not often need dietary cholesterol, because it can produce sufficient levels on its own. Some excess dietary cholesterol may be removed by the liver. In order to avoid high blood cholesterol levels, the typical adult should consume less than 300 milligrams (mg) of dietary cholesterol daily.
There are two main types of cholesterol. The good kind of cholesterol is called high-density lipoprotein (HDL). This type actually scavenges excess cholesterol and facilitates its removal via the liver. The bad kind is called low-density lipoprotein (LDL). LDL cholesterol can cause health problems.
One typical health problem that can be caused by high LDL cholesterol is atherosclerosis. This refers to a buildup of cholesterol, called plaque, on the walls of the arteries. Blood flow may be compromised by this condition.
Sometimes, blood clots form in the arteries when a piece of plaque tears off or ruptures. These blood clots can stop blood flow in an artery entirely. When the heart is deprived of adequate blood, the patient can suffer a heart attack. If this occurs in the brain, the patient suffers from a stroke.
Patients who have a high blood cholesterol level due to high dietary cholesterol should work with their doctor to prevent potential health problems. A nutritionist can also help develop a healthy eating plan that is low in both dietary cholesterol and fat. Regular exercise can also help, as can losing excess weight. In some cases, a doctor may prescribe medication to be used in conjunction with such lifestyle changes.