Good vs Bad – Cholesterol

Cholesterol is a type of fat that is white, insoluble and waxy in character. The body uses it to build cell membranes, produce hormones, regulate metabolism, produce bile acids, and make vitamin D. There is no need to eat high cholesterol foods, as our body is well equipped to make its own. Cholesterol needs to move around the body, which is achieved with the help of lipoproteins. Lipoproteins are like ‘couriers’ that transport cholesterol between cells. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is known as ‘bad’ cholesterol. High-density lipoprotein (HDL) is known as ‘good’ cholesterol. LDL and HDL, along with triglycerides and Lp(a) cholesterol, make up the body’s total cholesterol count.

LDL and HDL: Good vs. Bad Cholesterol
LDL is called bad cholesterol because any excess will keep circulating in your blood. Its main function is to carry cholesterol to tissues and arteries. Over time, it can slowly build up in the arteries near the heart and brain. Along with other substances, it can thicken and harden, and inevitably form clots that can narrow arteries. This leads to the risk of a heart attack or stroke.

HDL is good cholesterol because the more of HDL you have the better you are protected from heart attacks. Like scavengers, it picks up excess cholesterol and carries them back to the liver, where it is then passed on to be excreted. Up to a third of your blood cholesterol is transported by HDL.

Your body’s total cholesterol count can be determined through a blood test. It will indicate the ratio of LDL, HDL, triglycerides and LP(a) cholesterols in your body. High triglycerides are often associated with high total cholesterol levels, and high Lp(a) increases the risk of fatty deposits in arteries.

As you can see, lowering your LDL cholesterol alone may not be enough to reduce the risk of coronary disease. And, although increasing HDL cholesterol can help reduce the risk, it could at times still be inadequate.

How to Maintain a Healthy Cholesterol Level

The best way to achieve healthy cholesterol levels is by changing your lifestyle. A lifestyle change can have a great impact on meeting your LDL and HDL cholesterol targets. Make your life count by applying the following changes.

  • Quit smoking: This can increase your HDL cholesterol level by 10 percent.
  • Lose weight: If you’re overweight, for every 6 pound you shed you can potentially raise your HDL by 1mg.
  • Keep active: The best way to gain HDL cholesterol is to engage in at least 30 minutes of exercise a day, for most days of the week.
  • Eat healthier: It only makes sense to eat less foods containing saturated and trans fats, which increases LDL cholesterol. Eat less meat and dairy products, and more soluble fibres. Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids are also good for improving your LDL to HDL ratio.
  • Drink alcohol in moderation: Choosing to drink alcohol in moderation (up to 2 drinks a day) could help increase your HDL cholesterol levels (but if you don’t drink alcohol, don’t make this a reason to start drinking).

Sometimes, in addition to lifestyle changes, medical intervention is needed. There are some medications that your doctor may prescribe you which can specifically lower LDL and increase HDL cholesterol. These are Niacin, Fibrates, and Statins. As with most medicines, there are potential side effects. Remember to take as directed and keep focussed on living a healthy lifestyle.

High cholesterol has no symptoms and as such doesn’t make you sick. Taking a cholesterol test on a frequent basis (every 5 years or so) is recommended to identify any cholesterol problems earlier on to prevent the risk of a heart attack before it’s too late. A simple cholesterol test can measure your total cholesterol count; and doing so, even if you feel fine, can save your life.

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