What Is Cholesterol... Good, Bad... Or Both?

Do you know the difference between good and bad cholesterol, or how about the difference between HDL and LDL cholesterol? Understanding what cholesterol is and how it effects our bodies is vitally important to leading a healthy life. It's so important that we want to take a few minutes here to give you the facts about cholesterol.

First of all, cholesterol is a natural body function, everyone has it.  Some of this cholesterol is known as good cholesterol and some is known as bad cholesterol. We all have some of both in our bodies. The problem comes when there is an imbalance of the amount of good and bad cholesterol.   

Cholesterol is a soft, waxy substance that's stored in the fat or lipid content of your blood stream. Cholesterol, and our other body fats, do not dissolve in our blood. They must be transported by special carriers called lipoproteins. There are many kinds of lipoproteins but two of them, HDL and LDL, are the ones we will concern ourselves with here.

Between the two, HDL is considered to be the good cholesterol. Most experts agree that HDL helps move the cholesterol from the arteries to the liver, where it is broken down and leaves the body through the natural processes.

The amount of HDL in your body is very important.  A higher HDL level seems to reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke.   However, keep in mind, though, that a lower HDL level in your body (40 mg/dL in men, 50 mg d/L in women) is also an indicator of increased risk of one or both.  Remember it's the balance of HDL to LDL that is important.

We have all heard of plaque, and how the buildup of plaque in our blood vessels can lead to heart attacks or strokes. Plaques are hard, thick coatings that can clog your arteries and decrease blood flow to the heart or the brain.  Should the blood not move swiftly enough, there is danger of a blood clot forming near the plaques. 

When this occurs in the arteries leading to the heart, one is at greater risk of a heart attack.  If it happens in the arteries which lead to one's brain, there is a higher risk of stroke.  HDL or good cholesterol seems to remove excess cholesterol from the plaques, thereby inhibiting or slowing the growth of plaque buildup.

Low-density lipoproteins (LDL), also known as the BAD cholesterol are the other major transporters of cholesterol in our blood. The difference between this bad ( LDL) cholesterol and the good (HDL) is that the LDL basically performs the opposite function of the HDL. 

Instead of removing dangerous cholesterol from the blood stream, the LDL takes cholesterol from the liver and re deposits it in the blood stream. This can cause a build up on the walls of the arteries which supply blood to our hearts and brains.  

If your LDL level is 160 mg/dL or higher, there is a greater risk of heart disease.  For those who have already been diagnosed with heart disease, it is strongly recommended that you maintain a level of less than 100 mg/dL.

While not as well known, there is a third lipoprotein that can also cause a greater risk to us, this is known as Lp(a) cholesterol lipoprotein.  This is a generic variation of plasma LDL.  When one's Lp(a) level is higher, one can more quickly develop the plaque buildup which physicians and specialists refer to as "atherosclerosis". 

Although there has been no conclusive evidence as to why Lp(a) contributes to the increased risk of heart disease, it is commonly believed that the presence of the Lp(a) contributes to fatty build up within the walls of the arteries.  Researchers believe that this build up is caused by a reaction between the Lp(a) and naturally occurring lesions in the arteries.  

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