Life Guide: Good vs Bad Cholesterol
The body uses and produces cholesterol in order to work properly. This may be hard to imagine, since people are often talking about how bad cholesterol can be and how it should be avoided at all costs. Yet, cholesterol is vital to maintaining good health. Confusion arises because cholesterol can be good or bad. When it comes to knowing the difference between good cholesterol and bad cholesterol, it is important to understand what cholesterol is and how it functions. After all, without cholesterol the cells in the body would not have an outer coating, there would be no bile acids to digest food in the intestine, and the body would not be able to make Vitamin D along with other hormones (such as estrogen in women and testosterone in men).
When trying to understand cholesterol, it is important to know what it means. Cholesterol is a lipid (fat) which the liver produces. Since cholesterol is a fat, it cannot be dissolved by water or blood. The way it moves through the body is by special proteins, which are called lipoproteins. The body has LDL or low-density lipoproteins, HDL or high-density lipoproteins, and triglycerides.
Types of Cholesterol
There are different types of cholesterol and each serves a different purpose. When there is high levels of LDL cholesterol within the bloodstream it is identified as bad cholesterol. The LDLs are responsible for delivering cholesterol to the cells for storage. If there is a high level of LDL cholesterol in the blood it can cause particles to develop deposits in the walls of arteries throughout the body. If the deposit build up is significant, then plaque begins to form which serves to narrow the arteries and restrict blood flow. This condition can lead to heart disease or stroke.
The smallest of the lipoproteins is the HDL. Their high-density is due to the fact that they contain the highest proportion of protein to cholesterol. This type of cholesterol is considered to be the good type of cholesterol. Their function is to deliver the cholesterol to the liver to be excreted.
Additional fats that are produced in the body are triglycerides. Anytime food is being digested the body will convert unused calories into triglycerides. In fact, triglycerides make up most of the fat that is eaten. People with high LDL levels and low HDL levels typically will have high triglyceride levels. Other factors such as obesity, smoking, excess alcohol consumption and diets rich in carbohydrates contribute to high triglyceride levels.
Affect of Cholesterol on the Heart
Too much LDL cholesterol in the bloodstream can have serious ramifications on the heart. As the arteries narrow, due to plaque build up, it causes the arteries to become less flexible which is known as atherosclerosis. If the build up gets to be severe, then the heart can be deprived of receiving enough oxygen-rich blood to work properly. This will lead to a condition known as angina. The condition can progress to such a point where the coronary artery, which is the artery that leads directly into the heart, is blocked completely resulting in a heart attack or coronary artery disease. Since there are no symptoms associated with high cholesterol, it is important to have blood tests done to check cholesterol levels. Most doctors recommend getting blood work done to check cholesterol levels every five years after the age of 20.
Risk Factors Associated with Cholesterol
The food that one eats is not the only cause that contributes to cholesterol levels. However, the types of food consumed do play a significant factor in cholesterol levels. Diets that contain foods rich in saturated fats will drastically increase LDL cholesterol levels. Other factors play a pivotal role in determining whether one's LDL cholesterol levels will be high or low. For example, genes can influence the level of LDL cholesterol by affecting the production of LDL in the body. Obesity has also been shown to increase bad cholesterol levels. Studies show that regular physical activity can lower bad cholesterol and raise good cholesterol. A person's age and sex also contribute to their overall cholesterol levels. Another finding shows that stress can raise blood cholesterol levels. All these factors should be considered when assessing can affect cholesterol levels.
Knowing the difference between good cholesterol and bad cholesterol is important when it comes to managing bad cholesterol levels in the body. In fact, several different strategies can be used to lower the amount of LDL cholesterol, thereby reducing the risk of serious health issues. A lifestyle change that can help manage cholesterol levels is instituting a regular exercise program. Along with improving overall health, a regular exercise program will have the added benefit of maintaining a healthy body weight. Avoiding certain types of foods such as ones that are high in trans-fats and limiting foods rich in saturated fat can also help manage cholesterol levels. Of course not all food needs to be avoided, foods like fruits, vegetables, fish, beans, and nuts are all great at helping to manage cholesterol levels. Proper food selection is key to managing cholesterol levels. A regular doctor visit is also recommended to keep cholesterol levels in check. Sometimes diet and exercise alone will not be enough to lower high LDL levels; a doctor may need to prescribe cholesterol-lowering medication in such an event.
While cholesterol can be bad, it is a vital nutrient that the body needs to work optimally. The key is learning to distinguish the bad type of cholesterol (LDL) from the good type of cholesterol (HDL). Following some simple steps will make it easier to properly manage cholesterol levels. Start by checking food labels for possible trans-fats and removing them from one's diet. Limit red meat and full-fat dairy foods, as they contain saturated fats. Replace them with lots of beans, nuts, chicken, and fish. A good source of good cholesterol can be found by using liquid vegetable oils, instead of butter. Finally, simply eating more sources of foods rich with omega-3 fats, like fish and walnuts, can go a long way when it comes to managing cholesterol levels.
Edited by Joanna Cliff