Most people hear the phrase “high cholesterol” and immediately think it’s a health problem. Cholesterol, like so much else about the human body, is complex. There’s a bit more to it than seems immediately apparent.
The expert providers at Heart & Vascular Institute help patients understand their blood cholesterol. Understanding what the numbers mean might encourage you to adopt lifestyle changes that lead to better health.
In this post, we explain the difference between so-called good and bad cholesterol.
Blood cholesterol basics
Cholesterol is a substance your body makes and uses, but it’s also in most foods from animal sources. It’s often described as “waxy.” Your body needs cholesterol to make some hormones, digest food, and make vitamin D. Your body makes all the cholesterol you need.
Eating foods with cholesterol stimulates your liver to produce more, and too much cholesterol can build up in your blood. When that happens, it can stick to the walls of your blood vessels.
Cholesterol that collects in your arteries is called plaque and leads to atherosclerosis. This condition makes it more difficult for your blood to flow to all parts of your body.
Cholesterol is in every cell of your body, and it moves through your blood attached to proteins called lipoproteins. There are two types of lipoproteins: low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and high-density lipoproteins (HDL).
Cholesterol carried on LDL is called bad cholesterol. It may help you to remember that L stands for low, and you want the “bad” number to be low. Lower LDL levels are better.
A high concentration of LDL in your blood puts you at higher risk of atherosclerosis. And that increases your chances of having high blood pressure, a heart attack, a stroke, or other cardiovascular issue.
HDL also carries cholesterol — back to your liver where it can be disposed of. HDL helps clear your bloodstream of cholesterol you don’t need and prevent plaque buildup in your blood vessels. HDL is sometimes called good cholesterol.
Interestingly, the same steps can help you lower LDL and raise HDL.
Getting your cholesterol levels right
Medication sometimes is the best way to get your cholesterol numbers in a healthy range. But sometimes, lifestyle changes can get you where you need to be. Here are some suggestions:
- Talk to your doctor about your diet; generally, choose healthier fats and lean proteins
- Get active; physical activity helps raise your HDL
- Lose weight if you’re carrying excess pounds
- Don’t smoke
- Limit alcohol consumption
The first thing to do is get your blood cholesterol tested, then talk to your doctor about your results. We can help with that! Schedule your appointment at Heart & Vascular Institute in Dearborn, Detroit, or Southfield, Michigan, today.