Cholesterol Isn't Evil

LDL and HDL are what most people consider to be "good" and "bad" cholesterol, but this is a  gross oversimplification of what they really are.

LDL and HDL are cholesterol transporters that take cholesterol to different parts of the body to be used in different processes.  Here's a little information about them.

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LDL is what most people consider to be "bad" cholesterol.

  • It's actually a low-density lipoprotein that carries the majority of the body's cholesterol to cells for use. LDL is something that is necessary for you to survive- it only becomes a problem when there is too much of it in your bloodstream
  • LDL molecules vary in size from one to another, but they are all bigger than HDL molecules and contain more cholesterol than protein. Each LDL molecule contains one molecule of the apolipoprotein B-100, which is what helps give LDL its function.
Low-density Lipoprotein (LDL)

HDL is what most people consider to be "good" cholesterol.

  • It's actually a high-density lipoprotein that takes excess cholesterol to the liver for disposal.  There is less of it in the body than there is LDL, so having low amounts of LDL means there is an even lower amount of HDL in your body with which to get rid of cholesterol.
  • HDL carries a high amount of protein, and low amounts of cholesterol and fat. They also vary in size between one another, and an apolipoprotein named APOA1 is what gives it its function.
High-density Cholesterol (HDL)

Triglycerides are another molecule in your bloodstream to watch.  

  • They are a type of fat that floats around in your bloodstream along with LDL and HDL, and too much of it can raise your risk for heart disease.  It is the most common type of fat in the body.
  • A person's triglyceride level varies with age and gender.
  • Triglycerides can build up alongside cholesterol in your bloodstream, creating plaque that makes it harder for your heart to pump blood around the body.  This in turn raises your blood pressure, which can lead to all sorts of cardiovascular problems.
  • Trans fats and saturated fats also raise your LDL cholesterol level and contribute to weight gain, but unsaturated fats are good for you in moderation, and can lower your LDL while raising HDL.

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You might be wondering why doctors will measure your LDL, HDL, and triglycerides, and what significance they have for your overall health.

  • Like everything else, there is a normal range for LDL and HDL.  The numbers for them and 20% of your triglyceride level are combined into one number-- your total cholesterol.
  • The optimal level for LDL is less than 100 mg/dL.
  • The optimal level for HDL is 60 mg/dL and above.
  • The optimal level for triglycerides is less than 150 mg/dL.
  • The optimal level for total cholesterol is less than 200 mg/dL.

Though total cholesterol is important, the numbers for LDL and HDL are much more important individually than they are together.  Having a high total cholesterol with high HDL and low LDL is much healthier than having a high total cholesterol with high LDL and low HDL.

Having a high LDL and a low HDL can do nasty things to your health. The process, if left unchecked, breaks down a little something like this.

  1. When you have too much LDL carrying cholesterol through your bloodstream and not enough HDL to get rid of it, the cholesterol forms a sticky substance called plaque.
  2. The plaque begins to build up, thus making your veins and arteries narrower, which mean less blood is getting to all the places in your body that need it.
  3. Since your body still needs as much oxygen as ever, your heart starts having to work harder to pump enough blood, which raises your blood pressure.
  4. If this goes on long enough, blood flow to the heart can become dramatically lessened.  This can cause chest pain, and if blood flow ever becomes completely blocked, can induce a heart attack or a stroke. As you probably know, these can be fatal.

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Now you might be wondering what you can possibly do to prevent all these horrid diseases and problems.  The answer, fortunately for you, is quite simple.

Firstly, let's look at what contributes to high cholesterol:

  • Obesity and just being overweight in general
  • Smoking
  • Age
  • Activity level
  • Unhealthy diet (high in calories and fat)

There you have it!  Eat healthy, exercise when you can, and quit smoking-- or just don't smoke in the first place.  

If your cholesterol is really high, you may want to ask you doctor about medications to help lower your cholesterol.  Adults over the age of 20 should have their cholesterol checked every four to six years, especially if your family as a history of heart disease.

Sources cited

Website Citations:

"Cholesterol and Heart Disease." WebMD. WebMD, n.d. Web. 25 Mar. 2015. <http://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/guide/heart-disease-lower-cholesterol-risk#3>.

"Cholesterol Levels: What You Need to Know | NIH MedlinePlus the Magazine." U.S National Library of Medicine. U.S. National Library of Medicine, n.d. Web. 25 Mar. 2015. <http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/magazine/issues/summer12/articles/summer12pg6-7.html>.

"High Cholesterol." High Cholesterol Definition - Diseases and Conditions - Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic, 22 Nov. 2014. Web. 25 Mar. 2015. <http%3A%2F%2Fwww.mayoclinic.org%2Fdiseases-conditions%2Fhigh-blood-cholesterol%2Fbasics%2Fdefinition%2Fcon-20020865>.

"Know Your Fats." Know Your Fats. American Heart Association, n.d. Web. 18 Mar. 2015. <http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/Cholesterol/PreventionTreatmentofHighCholesterol/Know-Your-Fats_UCM_305628_Article.jsp>.

Image Citations:

Healthy Cholesterol Range. Digital image. Healthy-Ojas. Healthy-Ojas, n.d. Web. 25 Mar. 2015. <http://healthy-ojas.com/cholesterol/healthy-cholesterol-level.html>.

LDL. Digital image. Real Food Pharmacist. Real Food Pharmacist, n.d. Web. 25 Mar. 2015. <http://realfoodpharmacist.com/lowest-cholesterol-levels-associated-with-higher-mortality-in-older-patients/>.

High Density Lipoprotein Structure. Digital image. Particulate Fouling. Wikispaces, n.d. Web. 25 Mar. 2015. <https://particulatefouling.wikispaces.com/Risk+Factors>.

Triglyceride Model. Digital image. Wikipedia. Wikipedia, n.d. Web. 25 Mar. 2015. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enzymatic_interesterification>.

What Do Your Arteries Look Like? Digital image. 8 Foods That Could Help Unclog Your Arteries - Healthy Food House. Healthy Food House, n.d. Web. 25 Mar. 2015. <http://www.healthyfoodhouse.com/8-foods-that-could-help-unclog-your-arteries/>.

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