What is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a wax like substance found in all cells of the body. We need it to make hormones, Vitamin D, and various substances that help with digestion. Cholesterol comes from 2 sources- our body and the food that we eat. Our liver and cells produce about 75% of our total cholesterol and we consume the other 25% through our diet.
Cholesterol travels through our bloodstream in small packages called lipoproteins. Lipoproteins are made of fat on the inside and surrounded by a protein outside. We have two common lipoproteins known as a low density lipoprotein, or LDL, and a high density lipoprotein, or HDL. It is important to have healthy levels of both because too much LDL or not enough HDL increases our risk for heart disease.
What are “good” and “bad” cholesterol?
Low Density Lipoproteins (LDL) is referred to as bad cholesterol because when too much LDL circulates in the blood it slowly builds up in the walls of the arteries that feed the heart and the brain resulting in atherosclerosis. The LDL, in addition to other substances, forms plaque which narrows and hardens the arteries, thus limiting oxygen rich blood from traveling through. This can lead to formation of clots and can eventually lead to a heart attack or stroke. LDL is produced naturally and the amount is greatly determined by genes inherited from your family.
High Density Lipoproteins (HDL) is referred to as good cholesterol because high levels seem to protect against heart disease. HDL is believed to carry cholesterol away from the arteries and back to the liver where it can be removed from the body. It is also believed that HDL may remove excess cholesterol from the arterial plaque and in return slows the buildup.
Triglycerides- Triglycerides are a form of fat that is made in the body. High levels are due to cigarettes, inactivity, excess alcohol consumption, obesity, and a high carbohydrate diet. High levels of triglycerides are correlated with heart disease and diabetes.