Cholesterol: The Good, The Bad, And The Triglycerides
We have come a long way from the time when bacon and eggs were daily
standard American breakfast fare to today when most third graders are aware
that elevated cholesterol levels are bad. But more than half of all Americans have cholesterol levels that exceed the recommended total; one in five Americans have cholesterol levels that are considered "high". With this in mind, Dr. Donnica Moore addresses what we really need to know about cholesterol and what we should do if our numbers are too high. Dr. Moore discusses the different types of cholesterol and fats and shares some insight on how to best manage your own numbers. . .and the factors that got them that way in the first place.
What is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a soft, waxy, fat-like substance found in many foods, in your
bloodstream and in all your body's cells. It is essential for human and animal
life: it forms cell membranes, some hormones, and many necessary tissues. But
a high level of cholesterol in the blood - called hypercholesterolemia--is a
major risk factor for coronary artery disease (CAD, sometimes just called "heart
disease"), which can lead to heart attack, disability, and death.
Cholesterol and other fats (lipids) can't
dissolve in our blood. They have to be moved between cells by special carriers
of lipids and proteins called lipoproteins. There are several kinds of cholesterol
carrying lipoproteins, but the ones you should be aware of are low-density lipoprotein
(LDL) and high density lipoprotein (HDL).
Cholesterol comes from two sources: internal and external. Internally, it
is made in your liver (about 1,000 milligrams a day). Externally, it comes
from your diet: from meat, poultry, fish, seafood and dairy products. Foods
from plants (fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts and seeds) do not contain
Eating foods high in saturated fatty acids
is the chief culprit in raising blood cholesterol, but dietary cholesterol also
plays a part. The average American man eats about 360 milligrams of cholesterol
a day; the average woman eats between 220 and 260 milligrams daily.
Some excess dietary cholesterol is removed
from the body through the liver. Still, the American Heart Association (AHA)
recommends that you limit your average daily cholesterol intake to less than
People with severe hypercholesterolemia
may need to eat even less. Since cholesterol is present in all foods from animal
sources, these must be limited and lean or low fat.
What is LDL Cholesterol?
LDL (low-density lipoprotein) is the major cholesterol carrier in the blood,
popularly called "the bad cholesterol". If you have too much LDL, it can slowly
build up on the walls of your arteries, especially those to the heart and brain.
When combined with other substances, it can form plaque: a thick, hard deposit
that can clog those arteries. This is called "atherosclerosis". (For an effective
visual image, just think of what happens to your drainpipes when you pour chicken
fat down the sink!) If a clot (or thrombus) forms nearby, this plaque can
block blood flow to part of the heart and cause a heart attack. If a clot blocks
blood flow to the brain, a stroke may result. Therefore, high levels of LDL
increase your risk for heart disease and stroke, the top killers of all Americans.
What is HDL Cholesterol?
About one-third to one-fourth of blood cholesterol is carried by HDL (high-density
lipoprotein). It is believed to carry cholesterol away from the arteries to
the liver, where it is processed, thus "clearing" your system (it's the Drano
of the kitchen sink example). HDL may also remove excess cholesterol from
atherosclerotic plaques and slow their growth. Higher HDL levels may protect
against heart attack and stroke, so HDL is known as "good" cholesterol.