What Is Cholesterol? Do Our Bodies Need It?
If you have too much bad cholesterol (LDL) compared with good (HDL), you are at risk for heart disease and other cardiovascular problems. This cholesterol chart shows what healthy and unhealthy ratios are.
Cholesterol is a lipid (fat) wax-like substance found in all body tissues, including the blood and nerves. Our bodies require it because it is an essential structural component of all membranes. Cholesterol is carried by lipoproteins, (fat and protein bound together) in the blood to the cells in the body There are two types of lipoproteins, high-density lipoproteins (HDL, “good”) and low-density lipoproteins (LDL, “bad”). The protein component allows a lipid molecule to become more soluble in watery fluids. HLD and LDL cholesterol play a significant role in heart disease.
Many people have difficulty understanding exactly what their HDL (good) and LDL (bad) cholesterol numbers mean, and how to interpret them. This information may help you understand your cholesterol numbers.
What Is the Difference between HDL ("good") and LDL ("bad") Cholesterol?
Cholesterol with its carrier lipoprotein is termed either as HDL cholesterol, or as LDL cholesterol.
HDL cholesterol, the “good cholesterol,” seems to act as a scavenger and carries LDL, the “bad cholesterol” out of the arteries and back to the liver. LDL cholesterol contributes to fatty buildups in the arteries (atherosclerosis), which results in deposits of cholesterol that narrow the arteries and increases the risk for a heart attack, stroke, other heart diseases, and peripheral artery disease. Moreover, triglycerides (a common type of fat) also are in the blood. Triglycerides can increase the risk for these diseases if there are low levels of HDL and high levels of LDL in the blood.
What Are VLDL (Very-Low-Denisty Lipoproteins)?
VLDL (very- low - density lipoproteins) are compounds in the plasma of the blood composed of triglycerides, small amounts of cholesterol, phospholipids, fat-soluble vitamins, and protein. VLDL transports fats (triglycerides) primarily from the liver to peripheral sites. Unfortunately, VLDL has been associated with the development of plaque deposits that can restrict blood flow, like LDL. Restricted bloodstream flow to any artery, especially a coronary artery, can lead to high blood pressure and other serious cardiovascular problems.
What Do the HDL vs. LDL Numbers Mean? Which Is Better?
Blood cholesterol numbers can be calculated with a blood test. A person’s total cholesterol score is calculated by adding their HDL levels and LDL levels carrying cholesterol, and 20% of their triglyceride level.
Total cholesterol levels of about 200 mg/dL increase your risk for heart disease, stroke, and peripheral vascular disease. The higher the total cholesterol, the higher the risk.
The higher the total cholesterol, the higher the risk. Patients Talk to your doctor or other healthcare professional to understand what your specific cholesterol numbers mean. If your total cholesterol, LDL, VLDL, and triglyceride numbers are elevated and/or your HDL cholesterol number is low, your doctor may recommend lifestyle changes like a heart healthy diet and exercise, or in some cases, medication to lower your cholesterol numbers.
Does Menopause Affect Womens Cholesterol Levels Differently?
Yes, menopause affects women differently. A woman’s cholesterol levels are affected by her estrogen levels. Cholesterol levels can increase after menopause because there is less estrogen made after woman begins menopause.
How Can I Lower My LDL (Bad) and Increase My HDL (Good) Cholesterol Levels?
These tips can help you lower your LDL and raise your HDL cholesterol numbers.
- Eat heart healthy foods such as oatmeal, or bran, fruits, beans, and vegetables.
- Stay active by increasing physical activity daily to about 30 minutes of exercise each day.
- Get a regular good night’s sleep.
- Avoid smoking
- Lose weight
- Avoid eating fatty foods (especially saturated fat containing foods like fatty red meats).
- Moderate use of alcohol can help lower “bad cholesterol or LDL.”
Some people with high cholesterol may require medication to lower their LDL and increase HDL levels.
Examples of cholesterol lowering drugs include:
American Heart Association. "About Cholesterol." Updated: Apr 2017.