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Good Vs. Bad Cholesterol – How to Know the Difference

By DuPage Medical Group Cardiology

High cholesterol is a serious health problem that affects approximately 71 million Americans. High cholesterol leads to hardened arteries, cardiovascular disease and even strokes. Anyone can have high cholesterol: men, women, young, old, skinny or not – cholesterol levels don’t discriminate.

Believe it or not, there is a difference in types of cholesterol. Not all cholesterol is bad, it is an essential fat that your bodies’ cells need and does a lot of important work in the body. Some cholesterol is made by your body’s liver and some comes from your diet.

A cholesterol molecule is a lipid, which is a water insoluble substance like a wax, oil or fat. Cholesterol cannot dissolve in water or blood, and can’t move around the bloodstream on its own. In order to travel around the body, it attaches to a protein, forming a lipoprotein. Depending on the make-up of the lipoprotein (more protein vs. more cholesterol) will determine whether it moves through the body quickly to your liver, or more slowly leaving deposits as it goes.

LDL (Bad) Cholesterol

LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol is considered the “bad” cholesterol because it aids in building plaque, which is waxy deposit that can lead to clogs and lessened flexibility in your arteries. As your arteries become blocked, your blood flow is lessened and can result in a heart attack or stroke. A condition called peripheral artery disease can also develop when the buildup of plaque narrows the ability to supply blood to the legs.

HDL (Good) Cholesterol

HDL cholesterol is considered “good” cholesterol because it helps to remove LDL from the arteries. HDL attaches to LDL and helps to remove it from the arteries and carries it back to the liver to be broken down and passed from the body. One-third to one-fourth of blood cholesterol is carried by HDL. Healthy levels of HDL cholesterol can also protect against heart attack and stroke. In fact, low levels of HDL have been shown to increase the risk of heart disease.

Even though heart attacks are unpredictable, higher levels of LDL cholesterol will increase your risk of heart disease. Your diet and genetics are both equally at fault when it comes to your cholesterol levels. If your LDL levels are high, your cardiologist will work with you to develop a personal strategy to reduce your LDL cholesterol levels.

It is recommended that adults have their cholesterol levels checked once every five years. Talk to your physician about your cholesterol levels at your next appointment.

Topics and Subtopics: Heart Health & Diet & Nutrition

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