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Cholesterol is a sterol and a lipid found in the cell membranes of all body tissues, and transported in the blood plasma of all animals. Lesser amounts of cholesterol are also found in plant membranes. The name originates from the Greek chole- (bile) and stereos (solid), and the chemical suffix -ol for an alcohol, as researchers first identified cholesterol in solid form in gallstones in 1784.
Most cholesterol is not dietary in origin; it is synthesized internally. Cholesterol is present in higher concentrations in tissues which either produce more or have more densely-packed membranes, for example, the liver, spinal cord and brain, and also in atheromata. Cholesterol plays a central role in many biochemical processes, but is best known for the association of cardiovascular disease with various lipoprotein cholesterol transport patterns and high levels of cholesterol in the blood.
When doctors talk to their patients about the health concerns of cholesterol, they are often referring to "bad cholesterol", or low-density lipoprotein (LDL). "Good cholesterol" is high-density lipoprotein (HDL); this denotes the way cholesterol is bound in lipoproteins, the natural carrier molecules of the body.