The Ins and Outs of Cholesterol


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By: Nikki Nies

Often times the words “bad” and “good” are associated with cholesterol, but what defines good and bad you ask?  Let’s rewind a bit and go over what the word cholesterol means.  Cholesterol is composed of a waxy, fat like substance that is made in the liver and can be found in certain foods (i.e. eggs, dairy products and meats).  Cholesterol travels through the bloodstream with the help of an attached protein, called a lipoprotein.

A certain level of cholesterol is needed for the body to function properly: its cell walls, or membranes need cholesterol to produce  vitamin D,hormones and the bile acids  to help digest fat.  However, problems can occur when too much cholesterol builds up, called plaque, in the walls of one’s arteries.  Plaque is a thick, hard deposit and with enough plaque, the build up will make the passage of the blood to the heart harder.

Problems associated with cholesterol:

  • The build up of plaque, called artherosclerosis can then lead to heart disease
  • Angina, also known as chest pain, can occur where there is not enough oxygen carrying blood to reach the heart
  • Heart attack: Can occur if complete blood supply to portion of heart is blocked off by total blockage of a coronary artery

Cholesterol travels through the bloodstream with the help of an attached protein, called a lipoprotein.  There are 3 types of cholesterol, classified depending on the ratio of protein to fat.

Type of Lipoprotein

Description

Very Low Density lipoprotein (VLDL) Similar to LDL; contains mostly fat and not much protein
Low Density lipoprotein (LDL) Considered “bad” cholesterol; can cause the buildup of plaque on walls of arteries; increased LDLàincreased risk of heart disease
High density lipoproteins (HDL) Called “good” cholesterol; helps body get rid of bad cholesterol in blood; decreased HDLàincreased risk of heart disease
Triglycerides Another type of fat; carried in blood by VLDL; derives from excess calories, sugar and alcohol in body are converted into triglycerides; stored in fat cells throughout body

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Those 20 years or older should get their cholesterol levels checked at least every 5 years.  A fasting cholesterol test is a common way to gauge one’s heart health. It’s recommended total cholesterol remains under 200.

Ways to Reduce Cholesterol Levels and Prevent Heart Disease:

  • Moderate Exercise:  Can help reduce the risk of diabetes, high blood pressure and maintain weight control, which can decrease chances of heart disease
  • Quit smoking: Smoking lowers HDL levels
  • Heart Healthy Foods: The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends one limits daily intake of cholesterol to less than 300 mg; if one already has heart disease, it should be less than 200 mg; limit intake of saturated fat; moderate intake of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids
  • Medications and Cholesterol lowering drugs: i.e. statins; niacin, bile acid resins

Remember, your body makes all the cholesterol needed for regular function.  That doesn’t mean you should refrain from cholesterol rich foods (i.e. eggs), but moderation is key.  High cholesterol is leading cause of heart disease, but it is preventable.  What changes can you make to your daily life to stabilize your cholesterol levels?

Sources: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/Cholesterol/AboutCholesterol/About-Cholesterol_UCM_001220_Article.jsp

http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/9152.php

http://www.webmd.com/cholesterol-management/default.htm?names-dropdown=GA

http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/hbc/

http://www.emeraldinsight.com/journals.htm?articleid=866215&show=html

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