Cholesterol is a lipid, a type of waxy fat that travels to every part of your body through your bloodstream. Your liver produces whatever cholesterol you need; however, you can consume additional fats through animal-derived foods, so your levels may be higher than those that are healthy.
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 at their offices in Tomball, Cypress, Magnolia, and The Woodlands, Texas. If your level turns out to be higher than normal, here’s how the team can help.
What is cholesterol used for?
Your body needs cholesterol to perform a number of important functions, including forming cell membranes, producing some hormones and vitamin D, and making one component of bile, which the liver uses to help you digest food.
The different types of cholesterol
Cholesterol moves through the bloodstream to where it’s needed, carried by one of three lipoproteins:
- Low-density lipoprotein (LDL), called “the bad cholesterol”
- High-density lipoprotein (HDL), called “the good cholesterol”
- Very-low-density lipoproteins (VLDL), which carry another type of fat, triglycerides
You may wonder why LDL is called “bad” since doctors tell us our cholesterol levels should be low, but it’s called that because of its function as a transport molecule.
When LDL binds to cholesterol, it creates plaques of fatty deposits on the walls of your arteries, the vessels that deliver blood and oxygen to your body. The deposits narrow the arteries; make your heart work harder, raising your blood pressure; and produce blockages that can lead to a heart attack or stroke.
As the plaque builds up and hardens, you develop what’s known as atherosclerosis, commonly referred to as “hardening of the arteries.” It’s a major cause of circulatory system conditions like peripheral arterial disease (PAD), coronary artery disease (CAD), and carotid artery disease.
The fats linked to high LDL cholesterol levels are the saturated fats and trans fats. You can help reduce your cholesterol levels by reducing saturated and trans fats in your diet.
When HDL binds to cholesterol, it removes other kinds of cholesterol, including LDL, from the bloodstream, making it a “good” molecule. It delivers them to the liver, which eliminates them from the body. Current research suggests having high HDL levels can reduce your risk of developing heart disease.
The most common type of fat in your body is triglycerides. Triglycerides, which often come from foods like butter and oil, can also come from “extra” calories. If your body doesn’t need those calories right away for energy, it converts them into triglycerides and stores them in fat cells for use at a later time.
A high triglyceride level can raise your risk for a number of heart diseases, including carotid artery disease, PAD, and CAD.
What to do about high cholesterol
Your Northwest Houston Heart Center provider can help you reduce your cholesterol level through lifestyle changes, including:
- Eating a heart-healthy diet
- Losing excess weight
- Getting more exercise
- Giving up smoking
You may also need cholesterol medications like statins to lower your levels if they’re dangerously high.
If you haven’t had your cholesterol levels tested in awhile, or if you know your numbers aren’t where they should be, it’s time to come into Northwest Houston Heart Center for testing and for appropriate treatment if your levels are too high.
Give us a call at any of our locations, or book online today. You can also text us at 832-402-9518.