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

Hot baths and saunas: Beneficial for your heart?

Taking baths or saunas on a regular basis may help lower the risk of heart attack and stroke. Evidence for these benefits comes from studies in Japan (where hot tub use in ingrained in the culture) and Finland, where saunas are popular. Both habits seem to be safe for people with stable heart disease and even mild heart failure. But people with unstable chest pain (angina), poorly controlled high blood pressure, or other serious heart issues should avoid them. Because high temperatures can lower blood pressure, older people with low blood pressure should be extra careful in hot baths and saunas. More »

What do Twitter posts say about statins?

Many Twitter posts that mention statins provide links to published research about these cholesterol-lowering medications. Some tweets feature personal beliefs about statins that are inaccurate, including the notion that people can eat unlimited unhealthy foods while taking a statin. But only a small percentage of Twitter posts mentioned adverse side effects such as muscle aches and diabetes. (Locked) More »

Coffee: A heart-healthy brew?

Coffee drinking has been linked to a lower risk of dying of heart disease. Coffee contains potent anti-inflammatory substances called polyphenols that may improve blood sugar control and help blood vessels contract and relax. Although the caffeine in coffee may help people control their weight, it can trigger a short-term rise in blood pressure and heart rate. Filtered coffee, which removes substances that may raise LDL (bad) cholesterol, appears to be a better option than unfiltered coffee. (Locked) More »

Supplements for three common conditions

If someone is unable to tolerate medications for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or anxiety, supplements may be an option. Evidence shows that certain supplements may be effective for these conditions, if taken properly under the supervision of your doctor. But to ensure you are buying products that are both safe and effective, look for a quality seal on the label. More »

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 »