Cholesterol has earned a bad reputation and in some situations, rightfully so, as it can lead to heart disease. However, not all cholesterol is bad. In fact, some cholesterol is good and is an important part of healthy living. So, which is good and which is bad? Let’s take a look.
To understand the difference between good and bad cholesterol, we need to break it down a bit. In a person’s blood, there are fats, called lipids, which perform a variety of functions. Cholesterol is a type of lipid.
Lipids by themselves cannot travel throughout the body, but when they attach to protein, they can circulate through the blood stream, thus performing their various functions. When a lipid is attached to a protein, it is called a lipoprotein.
So, to answer the question of which cholesterol is good and which is bad, the answer lies in the density. High-density lipoproteins, known as HDL, are good because the molecules are solid and freely travel through the body.
On the other hand, low-density lipoproteins, known as LDL, are bad because the molecules are sticky which leads to the buildup of plaque in the circulatory system. Specifically when plaque builds up in the arteries, it reduces the blood flow to the heart.
There is also a cousin to cholesterol, namely triglyceride. Triglyceride is also a lipid known as a “very low-density lipoprotein” or VLDL which has the primary function of transporting energy to the cells. This is good until there is too much of this fat, which is then stored into fat cells. Stored fat leads to obesity and heart disease.
If you have high levels of LDL or triglycerides, you become high-risk for cardiovascular disease, which leads to heart attack or stroke. Unfortunately, many people don’t experience any significant symptoms of the condition prior to a serious stroke or heart attack.
Blood tests, as part of an annual exam, are paramount in the prevention of the more series results of a cholesterol disorder.
Our food consists of two types of fats, saturated fat and trans-fat. Saturated fat typically comes from animal-based food products like milk, cheese, butter and steak. Saturated fats increase LDL, the bad cholesterol, so the consumption of such food needs to be carefully monitored.
Trans-fats not only increase the LDL, but they also decrease the good cholesterol HDL. While some trans-fats are existent in animal-based food products, trans-fats are much more prevalent in processed foods like margarine and potato chips. Minimizing these types of food products in your diet will help keep your cholesterol and triglycerides in normal ranges.
There are some medical conditions that contribute to increased cholesterol levels including:
Our endocrinologists who treat these conditions are careful to check for cholesterol (lipid) disorders.
There are a few other causes of increased cholesterol (lipid) disorders which include:
While patients have no control over some genetic contributors, doctors who prescribe medications that can lead to a cholesterol (lipid) disorder will regularly monitor HDL and LDL levels. Patients do, however, have complete control over their lifestyle choices, including smoking and exercise.
For proper diagnosis of cholesterol (lipid) disorders, the endocrinologists at Rocky Mountain Diabetes Center will request blood tests called lipid panels or fasting lipid profile tests. These blood tests measure the HDL and LDL levels in the blood. Prior to these tests, you will be asked to refrain from eating or drinking anything but water from 8 to 12 hours prior to the blood draw.
The treatment for cholesterol (lipid) disorders may include a combination of lifestyle changes, medication, and supplements. Lifestyle changes that include a healthy diet and exercise will go a long way. Quitting smoking is an obvious healthy choice and medications will be determined based on your individual physical profile reviewed by our endocrinology specialists.
The doctors at Rocky Mountain Diabetes Center are endocrinology experts and highly trained to identify and effectively treat even the most complicated cholesterol (lipid) disorders.
If you or someone you love is experiencing any of the symptoms or conditions above, call Rocky Mountain Diabetes for an appointment, or fill out the form below.