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Understanding the Different Types of Cholesterol

Understanding the Different Types of Cholesterol

Cholesterol is a lipid, a type of waxy fat, that moves through your bloodstream to the parts of your body that need it to function. Your body naturally manufactures whatever cholesterol you need. However, it’s also plentiful in animal-derived foods, so if you eat too much of those, you can end up with higher-than-desired levels.

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 in the Tomball, Cypress, Magnolia, and The Woodlands, Texas, areas. Since cholesterol is an essential component of your body, the team believes it’s important that you understand the different types and what they mean for your overall health.

What does cholesterol do?

Your body needs cholesterol for a number of important functions:

Once these needs are met, any additional, consumed cholesterol can result in unhealthy levels.

The different types of cholesterol

As we’ve mentioned, cholesterol moves through the bloodstream. For its journey, it’s carried by a variety of lipoproteins:

Why, though, is LDL cholesterol considered “bad”  and HDL “good,” since we’re told we should keep our levels low? It’s because these terms come not from the cholesterol itself, but from how the lipoproteins function.

LDL

When it’s bound to cholesterol, LDL deposits fatty plaques on the artery walls, constricting them. This raises your blood pressure, makes your heart work harder to push the same amount of blood, and produces blockages that can lead to heart attack or stroke.

This buildup of plaque is called atherosclerosis, aka “hardening of the arteries.” It’s a primary cause of circulatory system conditions like coronary artery disease (CAD), peripheral arterial disease (PAD), and carotid artery disease.

In addition, the types of fats linked to LDL cholesterol 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, eggs, and butter.

Too much saturated fat, though, raises your LDLs, causing cholesterol to build up in the arteries and increasing your risk for heart disease and stroke.

When liquid fats go through the hydrogenation process to become solid, they form trans fats (or trans fatty acids). Trans fats are commonly found in margarine, fast foods, and fried foods, and they’re used to extend the shelf life of processed foods like baked goods.

Trans fats raise your LDLs, lower your HDLs, and increase the risks for heart and blood vessel disease.

HDL

HDL is the “good cholesterol” because the bound lipoprotein removes other kinds of cholesterol, including LDL, from the arteries. It binds the molecules while in the bloodstream and deposits them in the liver, which eliminates them from the body. Current research suggests higher levels of HDL cholesterol decrease the risk of heart disease.

VLDL

VLDLs carry triglycerides, the most abundant fat type in your body. Triglycerides come from foods, especially products like oil and butter, as well as from extra calories. Extra calories are the ones you consume that your body can’t use right away. Instead, it converts them into triglycerides and stores them inside fat cells to use when consumed fat levels are low.

A high level of triglycerides, like too much cholesterol, raises your risks for heart disease, including CAD, PAD, and carotid artery disease.

Your doctor at Northwest Houston Heart Center helps you reduce your cholesterol level with lifestyle changes, including:

If lifestyle changes aren’t enough by themselves, the doctor may also prescribe cholesterol-lowering medications like statins to reduce your levels.

Want to learn more about your cholesterol levels and how to manage them? Give Northwest Houston Heart Center a call at any of our locations, or book online today. You can also text us at 832-402-9518.

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