Cholesterol is a lipidic, waxy steroid found in the cell membranes and transported in the blood plasma of all animals. It is an essential component of mammalian cell membranes where it is required to establish proper membrane permeability and fluidity. Cholesterol is the principal sterol synthesized by animals, but small quantities are synthesized in other eukaryotes, such as plants and fungi. It is almost completely absent among prokaryotes, which include bacteria. Cholesterol is classified as a sterol.
Since cholesterol is essential for life, it is primarily synthesized de novo within the body. However excessive levels of cholesterol in blood circulation are strongly associated with progression of atherosclerosis. For an adult, typical total body cholesterol synthesis is about 1 gram per day (less if dietary intake is high) and total body cholesterol content is about 35 g. Average dietary intake in western societies is 0.2 - 0.3 grams. Cholesterol is excreted by the liver via the bile into the digestive tract. Typically about 50% of the excreted cholesterol is reabsorbed by the small bowel back into the blood stream.
The name cholesterol originates from the Greek chole- (bile) and stereos (solid), and the chemical suffix -ol for an alcohol, as François Poulletier de la Salle first identified cholesterol in solid form in gallstones, in 1769. However, it was only in 1815 that chemist Eugène Chevreul named the compound "cholesterine".