The term cholesterol has colloquially come to stand for the harbinger of heart disease. Contrary to popular misconception, not all cholesterol is “bad”. In fact, cholesterol is an essential part of the body’s chemistry. Today, we try to understand what cholesterol is, its role in the body, and the difference between harmful cholesterol and useful cholesterol.
Cholesterol molecules in the body are primarily classified on basis of what kind of lipoprotein is associated with the cholesterol. Lipoproteins are soluble proteins that basically act as shepherds for the cholesterol in the blood stream. As lipoproteins travel through the blood, they get attached to the cholesterol molecule and forming a layer surrounding them. Based on the density of the lipoprotein, they are classified into LDL (low density lipoproteins) and HDL (high density lipoproteins). Low density lipoproteins get their name because they are of a lower density than high density lipoprotein particles.
LDL has a tendency to get deposited in the walls of the arteries. In response to this, the white blood cells of the body accumulate around the spot of deposition – which results in the formation of clusters called plaques that can block the artery walls. Along with the risk of arterial blockage, these plaques are also vulnerable to suddenly bursting and causing a blood clot in the artery. It is clear that LDL accumulation is extremely harmful, hence earning it the moniker of “bad cholesterol”. In response, HDL is the “good cholesterol” which acts as a cleaner of the blood stream by picking up LDL and sending it to the liver to be recycled and reused. Healthy levels of HDL in the body prevent the rise of LDL levels in the blood stream and plaque formation. HDL acts as the janitor of the arteries, ensuring that the walls are scrubbed clean of bad cholesterol, and are free of any blockages.
More guidelines to remember about good and bad cholesterol:
- LDL levels in relation to risk of heart disease is as follows:
– above 190 mg/dL is considered very high
– 160 – 189 mg/dL is considered high
– 130 – 159 mg/dL is considered borderline high
– 100 – 129 mg/dL is considered near ideal
- Limit the consumption of saturated fats and trans fats like hydrogenated vegetable oils, butter, fatty meats, high fat milk and egg yolks to lower your LDL levels.
- Certain foods are known to boost HDL levels, such as nuts, foods containing omega-3 fatty acids, and whole grains such as oatmeal and whole wheat products.
- Weight and cholesterol levels go hand in hand. Even a loss of 3 kilos can boost your HDL levels, while gaining weight takes a toll on good cholesterol. Limit your sugar intake, get moderate physical exercise regularly, cut down on alcohol, and get regular sleep in order to maintain a healthy weight.
- Synthetic cholesterol management supplements are known to cause a host of side effects such as impaired memory, muscle loss, cell death, and liver damage. Consider switching to a natural cholesterol lowering supplement such as Red Yeast Rice (RYR). RYR contains the active ingredient monacolin K, which has been found to be more effective and better tolerated than synthetic cholesterol management supplements. RYR has been clinically shown to reduce LDL by 20-30% and improve HDL levels by 14-20%.
- Ensure that you get your cholesterol levels checked regularly. The key with heart protection is to detect any problems in the early stage.With a clean diet, regular exercise, and mindful use of cholesterol lowering supplements, there is no reason why you can’t enjoy years and years of good heart health.