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

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. (Locked) More »

How does my health compare with President Trump’s?

Men the same age as President Trump should not use the results of his recent physical as a guideline for their health, since his 10-year risk of a heart attack, stroke, or cardiac death was 16%, which is much higher than the standard 7.5% to 10% for the average, healthy 70-year-old man. (Locked) More »

Non-HDL cholesterol explained

Non-HDL cholesterol is calculated by subtracting the high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol value from a total cholesterol reading. It reflects both low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and other particles linked to a higher risk of heart disease. More »