Cholesterol

Cholesterol isn't entirely the health villain it's made out to be, its name darkly linked to heart attack, stroke, and other types of cardiovascular disease. Our bodies need cholesterol, which is a type of lipid (another name for fat) to make cell membranes, key hormones like testosterone and estrogen, the bile acids needed to digest and absorb fats, and vitamin D. Cholesterol is so important to the body that the liver and intestines make it from scratch.

What is "bad" about cholesterol isn't the substance itself — in fact, we can't live without it — but how much of it is in the bloodstream.

The body packages cholesterol in two main particles: low-density lipoprotein (LDL), the so-called bad cholesterol, and high-density lipoprotein (HDL), the so-called good cholesterol. Too much LDL in the bloodstream helps create the harmful cholesterol-filled plaques that grow inside arteries. Such plaques are responsible for angina (chest pain with exertion or stress), heart attacks, and most types of stroke.

What causes a person's LDL level to be high? Most of the time diet is the key culprit. Eating foods rich in saturated fats, trans fats, and easily digested carbohydrates boost LDL. Genes are sometimes at the root of high cholesterol, and some medications can boost LDL.

If you have high cholesterol, making changes in your diet can help bring it down into the healthy range. Exercise can help boost the level of protective HDL. Several types of medication, notably the family of drugs known as statins, can powerfully lower LDL. Depending on your cardiovascular health, your doctor may recommend taking a statin.

Cholesterol Articles

The new state of statins

Statin therapy continues to help men lower their cholesterol levels, which can reduce their risk for heart attack or stroke. Yet, new guidelines and research suggest that statins’ benefits do not apply to everyone. Men need to consider all factors like side effects, realistic expectations, and their overall risk for heart attack and stroke before deciding on statin therapy. (Locked) More »

Are you on the road to a diabetes diagnosis?

Having a higher-than-normal blood sugar level (100 and 125 mg/dL) is known as prediabetes, a condition that puts people at risk for diabetes and heart disease. Most people with prediabetes are overweight, and excess fat in the abdominal area is especially risky. Belly fat makes hormones and other substances that trigger chronic inflammation, which contributes to insulin resistance and sets the stage for prediabetes. Weight loss and exercise can help reverse the problem. (Locked) More »

Are eggs risky for heart health?

Large studies have not found evidence of higher rates of heart attacks, strokes, or other cardiovascular diseases in people who eat up to one egg per day.  (Locked) More »

Drug interactions with statins: Often preventable

Statins have been a mainstay of cholesterol-lowering therapy for over three decades. Today, nearly a quarter of all adults over age 40 take medication to treat high cholesterol, and most often it’s a statin drug. However, with such widespread use, especially among people who may have other cardiovascular risk factors, there is a distinct risk of an unwanted interaction between a statin and another medication. (Locked) More »

Does it matter how you lower your cholesterol?

Certain cholesterol-lowering medications—namely, ezetimibe (Zetia) and drugs known as bile acid binders—also appear to be effective at lowering cholesterol and reducing the risk of serious cardiovascular events.  More »

HDL cholesterol: How much is enough?

When it comes to cholesterol, people want less of the “bad” low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and more of the “good” high-density lipoprotein (HDL) kind. This combination is often associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. But while most attention is spent on driving down bad LDL, you still have to keep your eyes on the good HDL, as some research suggests that after a certain threshold, higher levels don’t offer extra protection. (Locked) More »

Fasting before a cholesterol test

Fasting for eight to 12 hours before a cholesterol test doesn’t seem to be necessary. But for now, people should continue to follow their physicians’ advice on this matter. (Locked) More »

New insights about an inherited form of high cholesterol

About one in 250 people has a genetic mutation that leads to dangerously high LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. Known as familial hypercholesterolemia (FH), the condition is the leading cause of early heart attacks (those that occur before age 55 in men and age 65 in women). In a person with FH, the risk of heart disease is 22 times higher than a person with a normal LDL level. But FH—which is caused by a single mutation in one of three different genes—is responsible for very high cholesterol levels in only a small fraction of people. Most people with very high LDL have dozens of different mutations, each of which raises LDL cholesterol a little bit.  (Locked) More »