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December 14, 2016 | Cardiology
In the world of dieting and weight loss, one of the most common topics of conversation is “good” and “bad” cholesterol. Cholesterol is linked with many conditions of the heart and bloodstream, and as one of the factors we have most control over when it comes to the causes of heart disease, people are often interested in it.
At the same time, though, plenty of people go about these conversations without a real understanding of cholesterol, and what separates the “good” from the “bad”. We all have hearts, and we’d all like to keep them healthy. With that in mind, let’s look at the basics of cholesterol – good, bad, and everything in between.
Cholesterol is a fatty, wax-like substance found in cells all over the body. The body naturally makes cholesterol, but it can also be ingested from many of the normal foods we eat. The body uses cholesterol for various things, from hormone production to vitamin levels to digestion of food.
Cholesterol is not able to dissolve in the bloodstream, which means it must be carried from place to place. In this case, it’s carried by what are called lipoproteins, which are a mixture of fat and protein. There are two different types of lipoproteins, and they’re the difference between “good” and “bad” cholesterol.
Low-density lipoproteins (or LDL cholesterol) are the “bad” type. LDL cholesterol can build up in arteries and help the formation of plaques, or hard blockages that can create clogs in the bloodstream.
For people at risk of any heart or blood issues, a doctor may recommend low levels of LDL cholesterol in the diet.
High-density lipoproteins (HDL) are the “good” kind of cholesterol – not only because they don’t clog arteries, but because they also help remove LDL cholesterol from the arteries. These LDL cholesterols are generally carried back to the liver, where they’re processed and removed. Low levels of HDL cholesterol have been connected to heart disease, and vice versa.
Semi-related to the two types of cholesterols are triglycerides, which are the majority of fats stored in the body. High triglyceride levels are connected directly to lifestyle habits like diet, exercise and vices such as smoking or drinking.
Genetics can also be a cause of high triglyceride levels. People with high triglycerides often have high LDL cholesterol levels and low HDL cholesterol levels, and are at much higher risk of heart disease or diabetes.
Blood tests for cholesterol look for LDL levels, HDL levels and triglyceride levels. These numbers are then combined for a total cholesterol score. LDL and HDL cholesterols levels are added together, and then one-fifth of the triglyceride level is added to that number to produce the final score. This can vary based on age and other factors, but in general, total cholesterol under 170 is good, and anything too far over 200 is bad.
Total cholesterol score isn’t all that matters, though. It’s important to pay attention to each of the three individual levels, and if you’re confused about any of it, to speak with your doctor about what your levels might mean for your heart health.
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This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.