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

11 foods that can help lower your cholesterol

People with elevated LDL cholesterol values may be able to reduce their LDL levels by eating more foods that are rich in fiber and lower in saturated fats. High-fiber foods include whole grains, beans, nuts, vegetables, and fruits. Saturated fats are found mainly in meat, cheese, and other high-fat dairy products such as butter, half and half, and ice cream. More »

Grain of the month: Barley

Barley contains more than three times as much fiber per serving as oats and is particularly rich in a type of soluble fiber known as beta glucan, which is recognized for its cholesterol-lowering abilities. More »

Cracking coconut oil’s "health halo"

Coconut oil raises harmful LDL cholesterol (a well-known contributor to clogged arteries and heart disease) much more than other vegetable oils such as soybean, safflower, canola, and olive oils. More »

What can at-home genetic tests tell you about heart-related risks?

At-home genetic tests such as 23andMe and Ancestry Health are unlikely to help predict a person’s odds of heart disease. The results reveal only limited information about a person’s risk for abnormally high cholesterol (a condition known as familial hypercholesterolemia) or harmful blood clots (known as hereditary thrombophilia). Most cases of coronary artery disease, the most common form of heart disease, are polygenic, meaning they result from changes in multiple genes. (Locked) More »

5 ways to prevent a heart attack

The average age of a first heart attack among men is 65. However, many people don’t take steps to protect themselves. Reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease is the best way to guard against heart attacks and includes avoiding tobacco, managing cholesterol and blood pressure levels, getting proper sleep, and lowering stress. (Locked) More »

Take control of rising cholesterol at menopause

High cholesterol can become a problem for some women after menopause. Managing the condition by making lifestyle changes and in some cases by taking medications can help prevent heart attack and stroke in many instances. Even small changes, such as losing a small amount of weight and adding a few 15-minute exercise intervals each day can help make a big difference in your health over time. (Locked) More »

Looking for a mellow form of exercise? Try tai chi

Tai chi is a slow, flowing form of exercise that’s sometimes described as “meditation in motion.“ It can be a good gateway exercise for people who cannot or will not engage in more conventional types of exercise. Tai chi may help lower cholesterol levels, reduce blood pressure, and dampen inflammation, all of which are linked to better heart health. Tai chi may also be a promising addition to cardiac rehabilitation. More »

Understanding acute and chronic inflammation

Inflammation plays an essential role in healing and injury repair and is an integral part of the way a person’s immune system keeps the body safe and healthy. Some inflammation is good. Too much is often harmful. The goal is to recognize when inflammation is merely doing its job, and when it can potentially cause problems. More »