Guadagnare Salute

Epidemiologia e prevenzione delle malattie cerebro e cardiovascolari


Prevention and lifestyle


Cholesterol and triglycerides account for most of the fats contained in our body.


Cholesterol is produced by the liver and is found in all body cells. It is used for the synthesis of some hormones, plays an essential role in the production of vitamin D, and it is a component of the cell membranes and of several tissues. However, excess cholesterol may be extremely harmful for the body.


Apart from the amount normally produced by the body, cholesterol can also be introduced through the foods we eat: it is contained in those foods rich in animal fats, such as meat, butter, cold cuts, cheese, egg yolk, pluck. Food of vegetal origin (fruit, vegetables, cereals) does not contain cholesterol.


The liver also produces triglycerides, which are an important source of energy for our body; their level in the blood increases when the diet is too rich in fats, carbohydrates (sugar, bread, pasta) or in alcohol.


Cholesterol and triglycerides are carried through the bloodstream by specific proteins, called lipoproteins:

  • Low Density Lipoproteins (LDL) distribute cholesterol to all organs
  • High Density Lipoproteins (HDL) remove the excess cholesterol and carry it back to the liver where it is eliminated.

Total cholesterol, HDL-cholesterol and triglycerides are measured in milligrams per decilitre (mg/dl) or in millimoles per litre (mmol/l).


The total cholesterol value is “desirable” if it does not exceed 200 mg/dl.

The value of LDL-cholesterol is “desirable” if it does not exceed 100 mg/dl.

The value of HDL-cholesterol is “desirable” if it is equal to or greater than 50 mg/dl.

The value of triglycerides is “desirable” if it does not exceed 150 mg/dl.



How to keep cholesterol and triglycerides at a favorable level


Hypercholesterolemia is caused by unbalanced nutrition, smoking, physical inactivity, excess weight and diabetes; more rarely by a genetic alteration.


Healthy nutrition can reduce cholesterol level in the blood by 5% to 10%; a 10% reduction of cholesterolemia reduces the possibility of dying from a cardiovascular disease by 20%.

The main cause of hypercholesterolemia is a diet too rich in saturated fats (of animal origin, such as red meat, cheese, sausages): saturated fats increase the level of LDL-cholesterol and reduce HDL-cholesterol. Poly-unsaturated (e.g. seed oil) and mono-unsaturated fats (e.g. olive oil), in a moderate quantity, have a positive effect because they tend to reduce the level of LDL-cholesterol.


Therefore it is important to:

  • limit the consumption of fats in general
  • replace saturated fats (butter, cheese, fatty meat, sausages) with poly-unsaturated (seed oil) and mono-unsaturated fats (olive oil)
  • increase the consumption of fruit, vegetables and legumes
  • reduce the consumption of desserts
  • limit the consumption of alcohol.

It is also important to regularly do some physical activity, stop smoking, keep the blood pressure under control, and lose weight if you are overweight.

Cholesterol and cardiovascular disease


The occurrence of cardiovascular disease is linked to the cholesterol level in the blood:

  • if the LDL-cholesterol level is too high, it tends to slowly deposit on the outside wall of the arteries, thus favouring the development of atherosclerosis
  • HDL-cholesterol is also known as “good cholesterol”, because it protects the arteries, removing excess fat
  • high levels of triglycerides do no directly favour atherosclerosis, but are often associated with high LDL-cholesterol and low HDL-cholesterol levels, as well as other diseases, such as diabetes and obesity
  • an excessively high concentration of cholesterol (hypercholesterolemia) and triglycerides is an important risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

© Istituto Superiore di Sanita (ISS)