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 age of statins

The cholesterol-lowering statin drugs can help protect against heart attack or stroke, both for people who have already had one and those who are at high risk for one of these events. But a recent study of 50,000 people age 75 and older found that the drugs did not reduce overall survival or rates of heart attacks and strokes among healthy older adults with no history of heart disease. (Locked) More »

Know the facts about fats

Your body needs some fat, but it’s important you eat the right kind. . People should eliminate or reduce saturated fat found in animal products like beef, pork, and high fat dairy foods, and increase their intake of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats found in avocados, peanut butter, nuts and seeds, and plant oils. (Locked) More »

Facts about alcohol and heart health

The evidence linking alcohol with greater heart health benefits continues to evolve. Most research suggests that drinking moderate amounts of alcohol— about one drink per day—can raise HDL (good) cholesterol levels. However, drinking much more than this can have a damaging effect and raise a person’s risk of heart attack, stroke, and early death. The advice, then, is to keep alcohol intake to moderate levels and avoid excessive drinking. (Locked) More »

Vegetable of the month: Peppers

Mild, crunchy sweet peppers are low in calories and a good source of vitamins C and A. Spicy hot peppers contain compounds called capsaicinoids, which have several heart-healthy properties. More »

The new, potent cholesterol-lowering drugs: An update

Potent cholesterol-lowering drugs known as PCSK9 inhibitors lower harmful LDL cholesterol by more than 50%. They also appear to lower the risk of serious heart-related events by 15%. One of the drugs, alirocumab (Praluent) also appears to improve survival in heart attack survivors with stubbornly high LDL levels of 100 mg/dL or higher. To date, the high cost of these medications has prohibited widespread access. But potential changes in the drug’s pricing structure could mean that more people will have affordable access to these medications in the future. More »