Cholesterol is vital because it is a type of lipid (fat) that helps your body perform many essential functions. However, too much cholesterol in your blood is bad for you. It can enter your artery wall, damage its integrity and lead to the formation of atherosclerotic plaque (hardened deposits).
Does that mean cholesterol is bad in general? Let’s find out!
The most significant confusion lies in what kind of cholesterol you need more in the body and what you need less. HDL cholesterol is considered “good” because it helps remove cholesterol from your arteries. LDL cholesterol is considered “bad” because it can build up in your arteries and form plaque.
Types of Cholesterol and Their Functions
Your cholesterol is not an independent entity. Cholesterol travels through the blood on proteins known as lipoproteins. There are different aspects to the levels, and what constitutes them can also be classified as good and bad, in simpler terms.
- Total cholesterol is the total amount of cholesterol circulating within the bloodstream. It consists of HDL, LDL and triglycerides.
- HDL stands for high-density lipoprotein. It is the good cholesterol that absorbs extra cholesterol from the blood and carries it to the liver. The liver then removes it from the body. So, HDL is the kind of cholesterol you need in adequate quantity because it helps the body remove the bad cholesterol and recycle it as good cholesterol. Moreover, it also helps keep blood vessels healthy by keeping their walls clean.
- LDL is the low-density lipoprotein that makes up most of the body’s cholesterol. It is also known as bad cholesterol because its excess presence contributes to plaque buildup in the arteries. As a result, it raises the risk of heart disease and stroke.
- Very low-density lipoprotein (VLDL) is a type of bad cholesterol that contributes to plaque buildup. These molecules carry fat (triglycerides) in the blood and having too many of them can lead to blockages.
- Triglycerides are a type of fat. Although the body needs some triglycerides, having high levels of triglycerides can increase your risk for heart disease.
The HealthifyMe Note
Total cholesterol consists of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), low-density lipoprotein (LDL), and triglycerides. HDL is the “good” cholesterol, LDL is the “bad” cholesterol, and triglycerides are the type of fat accompanying these.
The Significance of Checking Cholesterol Levels
Cholesterol is fat produced by the liver to make bile and for other essential functions. People can also get cholesterol from eating animal-based foods. Doctors use cholesterol numbers and levels to help people understand their risk for heart disease. However, high cholesterol levels can signify atherosclerosis, the buildup of plaque in your arteries. It can damage the artery walls and lead to severe problems like coronary artery disease, peripheral artery disease, and carotid artery disease.
High cholesterol levels can cause plaque formation in your arteries, leading to heart attacks or strokes. However, since cholesterol buildup happens slowly and silently, you may only be aware that you have a problem once it’s too late. Therefore, you should check your cholesterol levels regularly.
Ways to Increase HDL (Good Cholesterol) Levels
HDL levels are often low in people who have metabolic syndrome. However, treatment options for this disease include lifestyle changes, like losing weight and increasing physical activity. These changes also help with cholesterol! In short, both of these changes reduce triglycerides while increasing HDL levels. You may start seeing the benefits of these changes after exercising for around 60 minutes per week.
When trying to improve your diet, it is essential to avoid trans fats. Trans fats can increase LDL levels and decrease HDL levels. It includes food prepared with shortening, like cookies and cakes, fried foods and those filled with sugar. Limiting or avoiding saturated fats is also essential. You can find it in meats and other dairy products.
Smoking is an enemy of HDL cholesterol. It lowers HDL levels and increases LDL and triglycerides, specifically in women. If you smoke, please find a way to quit.
Healthy Cholesterol Levels
As Per Age
19 and younger:
- Total cholesterol: below 170 mg/dL
- LDL: below 110 mg/dL
- HDL: above 45 mg/dL
20 and older:
- Total cholesterol – 125 to 200 mg/dL
- LDL – below 100 mg/dL
- HDL – 40/50 mg/dL or higher
There are some sex-based differences in optimal HDL levels, with women tending to have higher levels than men. However, it is essential to note that HDL levels should not be too low, as a higher level is better for this type of cholesterol.
As Per Gender
- At-risk level: less than 40 mg/dL
- Optimal level: 60 mg/dL or above
- At-risk level: less than 50 mg/dL
- Optimal level: 60 mg/dL or above
High LDL (Bad Cholesterol) Levels: The Impact
Although it is upsetting to learn that you may have high cholesterol in your body, it is vital that you now know about it. This way, you can take the necessary steps to lower your cholesterol levels. Always consult an expert nutritionist or a medical professional before making any changes to your diet or lifestyle. However, some general tips to lower cholesterol levels include:
- Adding regular exercise to your routine
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Learning how food impacts cholesterol and thereby making meaningful changes to your diet
- Managing high blood pressure and high blood sugar; could be through stress management, medication, or lifestyle changes.
- Quit smoking and use of other tobacco products
- Taking medications as prescribed and on time
It is now easier to distinguish between good and bad cholesterol. High-density lipoproteins are the good kind, while low-density lipoproteins are the bad kind. So increasing your HDL levels by decreasing your LDL and triglycerides is a healthy way to improve your heart health. It might take some time and dedication, but it is possible.