Properties And Occurrence
Cholesterol crystallizes from an alcoholic solution as pearly white or pale yellow granules or plates. It is waxy in appearance and has a melting point of 299.3°F (148.5°C) and a boiling point of 680°F (360°C) (with some decomposition). It has a specific gravity of 1.067. Cholesterol is insoluble in water, but slightly soluble in alcohol and somewhat more soluble in ether and chloroform.
Cholesterol occurs in almost all living organisms with the primary exception of microorganisms. Of the cholesterol found in the human body, about 93% occurs in cells and the remaining 7% in the circulatory system. The brain and spinal cord are particularly rich in the compound. About 10% of the former's dry weight is due to cholesterol. An important commercial source of the compound is spinal fluid taken from cattle. Cholesterol is also found in myelin, the material that surrounds nerve strands. Gallstones are nearly pure cholesterol.
The concentration of cholesterol in human blood varies rather widely, from a low of less than 200 mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter) to a high of more than 300 mg/dL. It is also found in bile, a source from which, in fact, it gets its name: chole (Greek for bile) + stereos (Greek for solid).