At this point in our lives, we know all too well about that dreaded “cholesterol” word. We’re taught to fear it. We’re taught to avoid it. We’re told that it’s a killer. Well, at least this is what we’re fed by big businesses looking to sell their cholesterol-reducing drugs.
The truth about cholesterol isn’t so gloomy, however, and you will find that it’s both good and bad.
Don’t mistake it for a second. Cholesterol can be an extremely dangerous thing. This waxy steroid metabolite can be found within cell membranes. It makes its way through our bodies via blood plasma and, for many of us, ends up around our arteries, clogging them up.
Cholesterol is an essential structural component of our mammalian cell membranes, however, and is required to establish proper fluidity and membrane permeability. It is also crucial in the production of steroid hormones, bile acids, and fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E, and K.
As important as it is to our bodies, high levels of bad cholesterol can bring about heart disease.
Discussing the Two Main Types of Cholesterol
There are actually four types of cholesterol found in the human body: LDL, HDL, triglycerides and Lp(a). But each “bad” type finds its root with LDL.
Since cholesterol cannot dissolve in the blood, it is constantly transported around our bodies via lipoproteins. A low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is known as the proverbial “bad” cholesterol, and high-density lipoproteins (HDL) are known as good cholesterol.
Around 1/3 to 1/4 of our blood’s cholesterol is carried by HDL. The higher density lipoproteins carrying this cholesterol are known to be “good” because they actually work to protect against heart disease by counteracting the buildup of LDL. HDL carries cholesterol away from the arteries and back to the liver where it can then be passed from the body.
There’s no further gloominess needed to describe bad cholesterol. It’s a major problem due its nature. LDL cholesterol circulates in the blood and slowly builds up on the inner walls of arteries, slowing down blood flow and increasing your risk of heart attack or stroke if a clot were to form. LDL can form thick, hard deposits called plaque which narrow the arteries and make them less flexible – called atherosclerosis.
The Two Remaining Types of Cholesterol
Having a high triglyceride level is a major problem because it signals that you have too much LDL cholesterol and not enough HDL cholesterol. Simply put, a triglyceride is a form of fat made by the body and it can be elevated due to obesity, inactivity, smoking, alcoholism, or even a diet high in carbs.
This is another type of “bad” cholesterol. Lp(a) is a genetic variation of LDL (think: heart disease in the family) and signals a significant risk factor for a premature development of fatty deposits in arteries. This type of bad cholesterol isn’t fully understood yet, but it is believed to interact with other substances found in artery walls to contribute to fatty buildup.
Three out of the four types of cholesterol in the human body are essentially “bad.” As you can imagine, this brings about a wide range of problems and it becomes important that you do whatever necessary to promote HDL levels while reducing LDL and triglyceride levels.
Treatments for Bad Cholesterol
For many individuals out there, simply changing the way they eat and exercise is enough of a treatment. With the help of various food manuals and other information, you can begin to learn which foods offer “good” cholesterol and which foods contain “bad” cholesterol.
From there, you will know which foods to be weary of and which foods are okay to eat.
More than that, however, it’s all about proper diet and exercise. Eating a fatty piece of beef or a hotdog drenched in chili and cheese is just begging to make or keep cholesterol levels high. Whereas eating a healthy meal and exercising properly will help to promote a healthy weight and thus reduce bad cholesterol.
Exercise and an active lifestyle can help get rid of LDL deposits. They have been known to increase with inactivity, and this is why many elderly people struggle with cholesterol.
Cigarette smoking and high blood pressure are also known to increase LDL levels, so this is yet another area of one’s life that must be changed in order to promote HDL and drop LDL.
HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors, also known as statins, work to lower LDL levels by inhibiting the enzyme which plays a role in the liver’s production of cholesterol in the first place.
Like any treatment, statins are to be used in conjunction with a healthy diet and exercise, but they do show great success in the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease.
There are many vitamin regimens and herbal remedies which have shown to drop LDL levels of cholesterol. B vitamins, garlic, alfalfa herb tea, hawthorn berry extract, guggul capsules, and other natural remedies have all been shown to help fight LDL. Like with other methods, of course, proper diet and exercise are needed for the best results.