With all of the bad publicity cholesterol gets,
people are often surprised to learn
that it’s actually necessary for our existence.
What’s also surprising is that
our bodies produce cholesterol naturally.
But cholesterol isn’t all good, nor is it all bad;
it’s a complex topic and one worth knowing more about.
In our bodies, cholesterol serves three main purposes:
- It aids in the production of sex hormones.
- It’s a building block for human tissues.
- It assists in bile production in the liver.
These are important functions,
all dependent on the presence of cholesterol.
But too much of a good thing isn’t good at all.
LDL vs. HDL
When people talk about cholesterol,
they often use the terms LDL and HDL.
Both are lipoproteins,
which are compounds made of fat and protein
that are responsible for carryingcholesterol
throughout the body in the blood.
LDL is low-density lipoprotein, often called “bad” cholesterol.
HDL is high-density lipoprotein, or “good” cholesterol.
Why is LDL bad?
LDL is known as the “bad” cholesterol
because too much of it can lead
to hardening of the arteries.
According to the American Heart Association,
LDL leads to plaque accumulation
on the walls of your arteries.
When this plaque builds up,
it can cause two separate, and equally bad, issues.
it can narrow the blood vessels,
straining the flow of oxygen-rich blood
throughout the body.
it can lead to blood clots,
which can break loose and
block the flow of blood,
causing a heart attack or stroke.
When it comes to your cholesterol numbers,
your LDL is the one you want to keep low
— ideally less than 100 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL).
Why is HDL good?
HDL helps keep your cardiovascular system healthy.
It actually aids in the removal of LDL from the arteries,
according to the AHA.
It carries the bad cholesterol back to the liver,
where it’s broken down and eliminated from the body.
High levels of HDL have also been shown
to protect against stroke and heart attack,
while low HDL has been shown to increase those risks.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH),
HDL levels of 60 mg/dL and higher
are considered protective,
while those under 40 mg/dL are
a risk factor for heart disease.
Total cholesterol goals
When you have your cholesterol checked,
you’ll receive measurements for
both your HDL and LDL,
but also for your total cholesterol and triglycerides.
An ideal total cholesterol level is lower than 200 mg/dL.
Anything between 200 and 239 mg/dL is borderline,
and anything above 240 mg/dL is high.
Triglyceride is another type of fat in your blood.
Like cholesterol, too much is a bad thing.
But experts are still unclear on the specifics of these fats.
High triglycerides usually accompany high cholesterol
and are associated with an increased risk of heart disease.
But it isn’t clear if high triglycerides are a risk factor.
Doctors generally weigh the importance of your triglyceride count
against other measurements like obesity,
cholesterol levels, and more.
Keeping these numbers in check
There are several things
that influence your cholesterol numbers
— most of which you have control over.
While heredity may play a role,
so too do diet, weight, and exercise.
Eating foods that are low in cholesterol and
saturated fats, getting regular exercise,
and managing your weight are all associated with
lower cholesterol levels and lower risks of cardiovascular disease.