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

Fears about statin side effects: Often unfounded?

Statins appear to have a strong nocebo effect, which occurs when people experience negative effects from a drug, placebo, or other treatment based on an expectation of harm. The true incidence of muscle aches from statins is likely less than 10%. The statin may be causing the problem if the ache or pain begins within a month of starting the drug; is symmetrical (affects both sides of the body), and is unexplained by other possible causes, such as a new exercise regimen or an injury. (Locked) More »

Bad habits come in pairs

Couples often share health habits, whether good or bad, according to a recent study. When one partner doesn’t exercise regularly or eat a healthy diet, the other most often doesn’t either. Researchers found that in nearly 80% of cases, couples shared a high risk of developing heart-related problems because of shared risk factors. But the good news was that couples also seemed to influence each other in a positive direction. When one partner had good health habits, the other often did as well. (Locked) More »

Can you supercharge the Mediterranean diet?

A Mediterranean diet featuring plant-based proteins is associated with more weight loss and steeper declines in cholesterol, insulin resistance, and inflammation markers than a Mediterranean diet with more animal-based proteins. More »

Statin side effect could be due to the "nocebo" effect

People who avoid statins because of previous side effects may have experienced what’s called a "nocebo" effect, where they develop an unpleasant response because they expect something negative to happen, not due to the drug itself. Many such people can safely resume statin medications. More »

Treating heart attacks: Changes from Eisenhower’s era to the present day

Treatments for heart disease have changed dramatically since President Eisenhower’s heart attack in 1955. Highlights of the advances include techniques to restore a normal heart rhythm and to repair blocked heart arteries, the development of medications to lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and advice about lifestyle habits. (Locked) More »

3 supplements that may harm your heart

Some supplements pose risks to heart health. For example, red yeast rice supplements can amplify the effects of cholesterol-lowering medications. And garlic supplements can increase the levels and effects of some medications for heart health, such as blood thinners (causing bleeding), cholesterol-lowering drugs (causing muscle damage), and blood pressure drugs (causing dangerous drops in blood pressure). It’s important to talk to a doctor before trying any new supplement, and to ask if a supplement will interfere with a medication regimen. More »

Get FITT to better fight heart disease

People who have been diagnosed with heart disease or are at high risk should adopt a regular aerobic exercise routine to help fight many of the disease’s risk factors, like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and excess weight. A formula known as FITT—for frequency, intensity, time, and type—offers a guide to putting together a routine that will keep a person motivated and provide the best heart-pumping workout possible. (Locked) More »

Gut check: How the microbiome may mediate heart health

The trillions of bacteria in a person’s intestines, called the gut microbiota, may mediate some of the risk factors that affect cardiovascular health. Some bacteria break down cholesterol. Others create compounds that regulate blood pressure, affect hormones involved in diabetes, and dampen inflammation. But the feasibility of changing a person’s microbiome remains unclear, which means any potential microbiome-based therapies for heart disease are still years away. More »