Cholesterol is a waxy fat, also known as a lipid, that moves through your bloodstream to all parts of your body. Your body naturally makes the cholesterol you need, but because you can also get it through eating animal-derived foods, you can end up with higher-than-desired levels.
Cholesterol is an 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 in the Tomball, Cypress, Magnolia, and The Woodlands, Texas, areas. Here’s what they want you to know about the different types of cholesterol and your circulatory system health.
What does cholesterol do?
Your body needs cholesterol for a number of important functions:
- Forms cell membranes, which regulate what can enter or leave the cell
- Provides a component of bile, made by the liver to help you digest food
- Produces certain hormones
- Produces vitamin D
Your liver manufactures enough cholesterol to meet all your body’s needs; any consumed cholesterol is in excess.
The different types of cholesterol
Not all cholesterol is needed in the liver; it moves through the bloodstream carried by lipoproteins:
- Low-density lipoprotein (LDL), often called “the bad cholesterol”
- High-density lipoprotein (HDL), often called “the good cholesterol”
- Very-low-density lipoproteins (VLDL) carry triglycerides, another type of fat
It may seem weird that LDL is called “bad” since we’re told we should lower our cholesterol levels, but it’s called that because of what the lipoprotein does.
LDL, bound to cholesterol, can form plaques of fatty deposits on your artery walls, narrowing them. This raises your blood pressure, makes your heart have to work harder, and can produce blockages that may lead to heart attack or stroke.
This plaque buildup is called atherosclerosis, colloquially known as “hardening of the arteries.” It’s a primary cause of 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 foods derived from animals, such as meat, milk, cheese, and butter.
When liquid fats go through the hydrogenation process to become solid, they form trans fats, such as in many margarines. Trans fats are also commonly found in fast foods and fried foods, and they’re used to extend the shelf life of processed foods like baked goods.
You should minimize your consumption of both saturated and trans fats to help reduce your cholesterol levels.
HDL is the “good cholesterol” because it removes other kinds of cholesterol, including LDL, from the arteries. It binds the molecules in the bloodstream and delivers them to the liver, which eliminates them from the body. Current research suggests higher levels of HDL reduce the risk of heart disease.
Triglycerides are the most abundant type of fat in your body. They come from foods, especially products like butter and oil, and they come from extra calories. Extra calories are the ones you eat but your body doesn’t need right away; it converts them into triglycerides and stores them in fat cells for later use.
A high triglyceride level can raise your risk of heart diseases, including CAD, PAD, and carotid artery disease.
The doctors at Northwest Houston Heart Center can help you reduce your cholesterol level by changing your lifestyle habits, including:
- Eating a heart-healthy diet
- Losing weight
- Getting more exercise
- Giving up smoking
They may also prescribe medications like statins to lower your cholesterol levels if they’re dangerously high.
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.