Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The good, the bad, and the borderline: What do your cholesterol levels say about you?

"Know your cholesterol levels". "This product is cholesterol free". "Top 5 foods that lower your cholesterol".

We see products and ads everywhere advertising and soliciting for low cholesterol. Sure, we know it's bad. But did you know that your body actually uses cholesterol? Actually, your body doesn't just use cholesterol, it actually needs cholesterol.

Lets dive into what exactly cholesterol is and what your body does with it. The behind the scenes of LDL and HDL cholesterol, and what those stand for. And how low can your cholesterol go, to be considered healthy.

The Many Roles of Cholesterol

Cholesterol is sent to your liver after absorbing it from carbohydrates, protein, and fat that you eat. The body then translates the cholesterol into two forms: high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL). With these, your body puts them to work to aid in a number of functions. Here are a handful:

1. Produce sex hormones like estrogen and progesterone in woman, and testosterone in men. These particular hormones play a key role in reproduction and physical features.

2. Create the steroid hormone cortisol, which helps regulate blood sugar and defending against infection.

3. Develop the hormone aldosterone, which helps your body regulate salt and water.

4. Absorb vitamin D, which in tandem with Calcium, is responsible for strong teeth and bones.

5. Make bile, the substance released by the gallbladder that helps your intestines digest food.

Is Cholesterol your Friend?

More like a "Fr-enemy" (Friend-Enemy)

All this talk about all that cholesterol does made me wonder: Is cholesterol a good thing? The answer: Yes and no. Hence, I've come to the conclusion that cholesterol is my "fr-enemy". 

When you have high cholesterol, you may develop fatty deposits in your blood vessels called "plaques". Eventually, these deposits make it difficult for blood to flow through your vessels. As this plaque builds within your vessels and blood flow becomes more and more restricted, your heart may not get as much oxygen-rich blood as it needs. This may lead to varicose veins, which is your body's way of creating other paths for blood to flow. Even worse, as these plaques increase grow, it increases your likelihood of having one completed block blood flow by either growing so large in the same place or by breaking off and having a plaque piece travel to a more narrow vessel. This will usually lead to a heart attack or stroke.

Cholesterol Overview

The Good vs The Bad


HDL cholesterol is the well-behaved, or the "good cholesterol." HDL acts as a hunter, cruising the bloodstream to remove harmful bad cholesterol from where it doesn't belong. As a result, high HDL levels reduce your risk for heart disease -- but low levels can actually increase your risk.

LDL cholesterol is the hunted. LDL is what collects in the walls of blood vessels, causing the build up of plaque. Higher LDL levels put you at greater risk for a heart attack from a sudden blood clot in an artery.

Down to the Numbers

The good, the bad, and the borderline

"Good" within this case means you are at healthy level, and therefore at a low risk of heart disease. "Borderline" means you have some work to do, and your heart disease risk is increased. "Bad" indicates that you have a high risk of not only heart disease, but also stroke or heart attack.

Total cholesterol levels act as a quick glance at how your cholesterol is. The numbers are as followed:
Good: <200
Bad: >240

HDL is good cholesterol, however there is still a suggested range. They are:
Low: <39
Normal: 40-59
High: >60

LDL is bad cholesterol, so these levels must be watched closely:
Good: <99
Borderline: 100-189
Bad: >190

Notes: I have intentionally left out the units for these values. If you are curious, it is mg/dL.

Here is an example of cholesterol levels that could use a little help. 

The 2 Best Ways to Stay in the Good

In the good cholesterol range, that is

1. Eat good fat
You've heard the saying, "You are what you eat". Well, your cholesterol level heavily reflects your eating habits, so choose foods that will keep your cholesterol good. This includes lots of fruits and vegetables, and watching the intake of fat, carbohydrates, and . Foods that are rich in monounsaturated fat are good for you and will increase your HDL cholesterol. This includes olive and canola oil, avocados, fish and peanut butter, to name a few.

2. Get fit.
Exercise also lowers LDL and increase HDL cholesterol. Choose the stairs or park your car at the back of the lot. These little things add up.

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