What is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is fat, or lipid. It is also a sterol, from which steroid hormones are made. If you held cholesterol in your hand, you would see a waxy substance that resembles the very fine scrapings of a whitish-yellow candle. Cholesterol flows through your body via your bloodstream, but this is not a simple process. Because lipids are oil-based and blood is water-based, they don’t mix. If cholesterol were simply dumped into your bloodstream, it would congeal into unusable globs. To get around this problem, the body packages cholesterol and other fats into minuscule protein-covered particles called lipoproteins (lipid protein) that do mix easily with blood. The proteins used are known as apolipoproteins.
The fat in these particles is made up of cholesterol and triglycerides and a third material, phospholipids, which helps make the whole particle stick together. Triglycerides are a particular type of fat that have three fatty acids attached to an alcohol called glycerol —–hence the name. They compose about 90 % of the fat in the food you eat. The body needs triglycerides for energy, but as with cholesterol, too much is bad for the arteries and the heart.
(Mason W. Freeman, Christine E. Junge; The Harvard Medical School Guide to lowering your cholesterol; 2005; 2.)
Cholesterol’s High Points
High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol is known as the good cholesterol. This is the compact, or high-density, form of cholesterol. When you understand how the liver’s manufacturing and transport system works, it’s easy to see why the HDL are considered good—because HDLs help transport the excess LDL cholesterol form you arteries to the liver where it can be metabolized. That is why HDL is called the good cholesterol. For a healthy heart and circulatory system, you should have HDL cholesterol levels higher that 40mg/dl. The higher the level of your HDLs, the better it is for your health. People who have low levels of HDL cholesterol are at higher risk for heart disease.
According to the NCEP guidelines, an HDL level of 60 mg/dl is considered a negative risk factor. A negative risk factor is like a bonus point that can decrease your heart attack or stroke risk. Since knowing the amount of your HDL cholesterol is an important aspect of assessing your overall risk of heart disease, it’s a good idea to have your HDL cholesterol levels measured – not just your total cholesterol checked.
Cholesterol’s Low Points
Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol is known as the “bad” cholesterol; however, LDL cholesterol is bad for your body only if you have too much in your bloodstream or your have too much of the particularly harmful type. LDL cholesterol is an essential building block for cell membranes and the substance from which hormones, including cortisol and testosterone, are manufactured. The amount of LDL cholesterol that exceeds what your body needs, however, flows through your bloodstream and increases the likelihood of the formation of plaque that can block blood flow.
NCEP guidelines focus more on your types of cholesterol than your total cholesterol. For example, if you have high total cholesterol but is mostly HDL, then that’s good things! Unfortunately, most people’s total cholesterol is composed mainly of LDL cholesterol, which is why having high cholesterol is generally considered bad for health.
Why is high cholesterol a problem, when cholestrol is essential for us?
Too much cholesterol in the blood can lead to blockage of the arteries. Fatlike deposits may build up inside arteries that provide blood to the legs, blood to the brain, or blood to the heart.
When blood flow through a coronary artery (blood to the heart is completely blocked, an area of the heart muscle does not receive the blood and therefore the oxygen blood carries that the heart needs to survive. When this happens, a heart attack occurs. Plaque can also build up in the carotid arteries that supply blood to the brain. If this breaks free and a clot of it goes to the brain. It can cause a stroke. When plaque builds up in the blood vessels of the legs, it can cause leg pain, fatigue, cramping, or feelings of heaviness. This condition is known as peripheral arterial disease. When plaque builds up in the arteries that supply blood to the male sex organs, erectile dysfunction or impotence can result.
How can I increase my HDL cholesterol levels?
HDL cholesterol responds well to lifestyle changes. If you increase your physical activity each day or exercise regularly, it will stimulate the liver’s production of HDLs Losing excess weight can also improve your HDL profile. If your smoke cigarettes, you will increase your HDL levels simply by quitting your habit. If your HDLs are less that 35mg/dl, you may need drug therapy. Ask your health care provider what strategies are most suitable for you.
Research has shown that identifying your cholesterol profile is far more important than knowing your total cholesterol. Levels of HDL and LDL provide an even more accurate assessment of the risk of coronary artery disease.
How can I lower cholesterol?
Regular physical activity can increase your HDL cholesterol, reduce LDL cholesterol, and reduce triglycerides. Since triglycerides are a blood fat, they are available to the body as a source of fuel for muscular activity. Therefore, people who are active can use up the triglycerides in their bloodstream s a source of energy.
Evidence from numerous research studies shows that moderate exercise, such as brisk walking, that adds up to a total of thirty minutes on most days of the week can improve your health.
In addition to burning up excess fats, moderate exercise also helps to reduce stress, which further enhances your well-being.
Avoiding unhealthy fats like saturated fats and trans fats and using healthy fats like monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats can also help lower your cholesterol levels.