Skip to main content Skip to Search Box

Definition: cholesterol from Collins English Dictionary


1 a sterol found in all animal tissues, blood, bile, and animal fats: a precursor of other body steroids. A high level of cholesterol in the blood is implicated in some cases of atherosclerosis, leading to heart disease. Formula: C27H45OH Former name: cholesterin (kəˈlɛstərɪn)

[C19: from chole- + Greek stereos hard, solid, so called because first observed in gallstones]

Summary Article: cholesterol
From The Columbia Encyclopedia

(kӘlĕs'tӘrōl´´), fatty lipid found in the body tissues and blood plasma of vertebrates; it is only sparingly soluble in water, but much more soluble in some organic solvents. A steroid, cholesterol can be found in large concentrations in the brain, spinal cord, and liver. The liver is the most important site of cholesterol biosynthesis, although other sites include the adrenal glands and reproductive organs. By means of several enzymatic reactions, cholesterol is synthesized from acetic acid; it then serves as the major precursor for the synthesis of vitamin D3, of the various steroid hormones, including cortisol, cortisone, and aldosterone in the adrenal glands, and of the sex hormones progesterone, estrogen, and testosterone. Cholesterol is excreted from the liver in the form of a secretion known as bile; it sometimes crystallizes in the gall bladder to form gallstones. The insolubility of cholesterol in water is also a factor in the development of atherosclerosis (see arteriosclerosis), the pathological deposition of plaques of cholesterol and other lipids on the insides of major blood vessels, a condition associated with coronary artery disease. This buildup of cholesterol in the blood vessels may constrict the passages considerably and inhibit the flow of blood to and from the heart. Recent research has shown that the relative abundance of certain protein complexes, called lipoproteins, to which cholesterol becomes attached may be the real cause of cholesterol buildup in the blood vessels. High-density lipoprotein (HDL) carries cholesterol out of the bloodstream for excretion, while low-density lipoprotein (LDL) carries it back into the system for use by various body cells. Researchers believe that HDL and LDL levels in the bloodstream may be at least as important as cholesterol levels, and now measure both to determine risk for heart disease. Reducing consumption of foods containing cholesterol and saturated fat has been found to lower blood cholesterol levels. Cholesterol levels can also be reduced with drugs, most especially with HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors (commonly called “statins”), such as lovastatin (Mevacor) and atorvastatin (Lipitor), and by regular exercise.

The Columbia Encyclopedia, © Columbia University Press 2018

Related Articles

Full text Article cholesterol
The Macmillan Encyclopedia

A compound derived from steroids and found in many animal tissues. Cholesterol is manufactured by the liver and other tissues and its...

Full text Article cholesterol
Philip's Encyclopedia

White, fatty steroid , occurring in large concentrations in the brain, spinal cord and liver. It is synthesized in the liver, intestines and...

Full text Article Cholesterol
Encyclopedia of Women's Health

The leading cause of death in women in the United States is heart disease resulting from clogged arteries. Although heart attack and angina used...

See more from Credo