Cholesterol is a type of waxy fat, called a lipid, that travels through your body by way of your bloodstream to where it’s needed. Your body naturally makes all the cholesterol you need, but because most people eat animal-derived foods, which also contain cholesterol, you can end up with higher levels than are healthy.
Cholesterol is a natural and essential component of your body, so it’s important you understand the different types and what they mean for your overall health.
At Northwest Houston Heart Center, cardiologists Dr. A. Adnan Aslam and Dr. Roy Norman stress the importance of maintaining healthy cholesterol levels with their patients, as high levels can put you at risk for conditions like cardiovascular disease and stroke. If your numbers come out high, you can make a number of lifestyle changes that will bring them back in line and recoup your health.
What does the body do with cholesterol?
Your body needs cholesterol for a number of important functions:
- Forms cell membranes, regulating what can enter or leave the cell
- Provides a component of bile, produced by the liver, to help you digest food
- Produces certain hormones
- Produces vitamin D
Your liver produces enough cholesterol to meet all your body’s needs, so any cholesterol you consume can be more problematic than helpful.
The different types of cholesterol
Cholesterol moves through the bloodstream carried by molecules called lipoproteins:
- Low-density lipoprotein (LDL), “the bad cholesterol”
- High-density lipoprotein (HDL), “the good cholesterol”
- Very-low-density lipoproteins (VLDL) carry triglycerides, a related type of fat
LDL is called “bad” because of what the lipoprotein does. Bound to cholesterol, it forms plaques (fatty deposits) on your artery walls, narrowing them. Your heart has to work harder to move the same amount of blood, which raises your blood pressure and also can produce blockages that may lead to heart attack or stroke.
This plaque buildup is known as atherosclerosis, colloquially called “hardening of the arteries.” It’s a primary cause of cardiovascular conditions like coronary artery disease (CAD), peripheral arterial disease (PAD), and carotid artery disease.
The fats linked to high LDL cholesterol levels are saturated fats and trans fats. Saturated fats are waxy at room temperature, and they’re found in animal-derived foods such as meat, milk, cheese, and butter.
When liquid fats are hydrogenated to become solid, they form trans fats. Trans fats are commonly found in fast foods, fried foods, and many margarines, and many manufacturers use them to extend the shelf life of processed foods like baked goods.
Minimizing your consumption of both saturated and trans fats helps reduce your cholesterol levels.
HDL is called “good” because it removes other forms of cholesterol, including LDL, from the arteries. It binds the molecules in the bloodstream and transports them to the liver, which helps excrete them from the body. Current research suggests higher HDL levels reduce the risk of heart disease.
Triglycerides are the most abundant fats in your body. They come from foods, especially butter and oil, as well as from extra calories. Extra calories are the ones you eat but your body can’t use right away, so it converts them into triglycerides, storing them in fat cells for later use.
High triglyceride levels can raise your risk of heart diseases, including CAD, PAD, and carotid artery disease.
5 lifestyle changes to make with high cholesterol
The doctors at Northwest Houston Heart Center can help you reduce your cholesterol levels by introducing healthier lifestyle habits, including:
- Exercise more: Moving your body helps to naturally reduce your cholesterol levels.
- Avoid smoking and all tobacco products.
- Keep a weight that’s healthy for you: If you’re overweight, it stresses your cells, raises your blood pressure, and leads to atherosclerosis.
- Learn how food impacts your cholesterol levels: Start with small changes to your diet, then build from there.
- Manage high blood pressure and high blood sugar: Both increase cholesterol’s harmful effects.
Bonus changes: Learn strategies for managing your overall stress level, as stress can lead to an inability to manage cholesterol effectively. If the doctor provides you with medication, such as a statin, to control your cholesterol levels, make sure you take it exactly as prescribed.
High cholesterol levels can be hard to manage on your own, so teaming up with Northwest Houston Heart Center is a great step toward reclaiming your healthy life. Give us a call at any of our locations — Tomball, Cypress, Magnolia, and The Woodlands, Texas — or book online today. You can also text us at 832-402-9518.