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The good, the bad and the ugly truths about cholesterol

Susan July 30, 2012 Cholesterol Screens, Heart Health & Cholesterol Comments Off on The good, the bad and the ugly truths about cholesterol
The good, the bad and the ugly truths about cholesterol


Cholesterol is a natural occurring substance in the body important for many functions from making some hormones to building cell walls, to name a few. The liver produces most of the cholesterol in your body, but you also get cholesterol from foods such as meat, eggs and whole-fat dairy products.  By ROBERT LOPEZ, M.D.

Cholesterol levels are determined by more than the foods you eat. Increasing age and being overweight lead to increased levels. Medical problems such as heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure increase the risk. Family history also is an important contributor.

Too much cholesterol can lead to serious health problems. Your doctor may have told you you have high cholesterol, also called hyperlipidemia. Cholesterol is measured with a Simple Blood Test ideally following a 12-hour fast; the test measures the total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LPL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol and triglycerides. It is important to understand what these terms mean because not all cholesterol is bad for you.

LDL cholesterol is often referred to as the “bad cholesterol.” As levels increase in our blood, cholesterol deposits on the walls of blood vessels, hardening them. Over time, the blood flow through these arteries is reduced, a condition known as atherosclerosis. Eventually, arteries can become completely blocked, causing a lack of blood supply. In the arteries of the heart, this condition can lead to a heart attack, and in the blood vessels supplying our brain, this condition increases the risk of having a stroke.

HDL cholesterol, known as the “good cholesterol,” makes up about one-fourth to one-third of the total cholesterol in your body. It carries the cholesterol away from the arteries and back to the liver, where it is processed and removed from the body. High levels seem to have a protective effect on the heart, lowering the risk of heart attacks.

Triglycerides are a form of fat made in the body. They are derived not only from the animal and vegetable fats in foods you eat but also from carbohydrates. Your body converts calories not burned to triglycerides for storage in fat cells. Therefore a diet low in fat but high in carbohydrates can still lead to elevated triglycerides. Elevated triglycerides are linked to obesity; when combined with high LDL levels, the risk of heart disease is increased.

Treating High Cholesterol

Today there are medications your doctor may prescribe to help treat high cholesterol. Whether or not you are on a medication, there are things you can do to help lower or even prevent high cholesterol. Eat a diet low in saturated fats, trans fats and cholesterol. Maintain a healthy weight and exercise regularly to strengthen your heart. Quitting smoking can decrease your risk of heart disease.

If your test reveals high cholesterol, talk to your doctor to find out what you can do to lead a healthier life.

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