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

Getting to the heart of the fat issue

Fat has been shamed for so long, but it has a vital role in promoting greater heart health. Men need to cut out or greatly reduce their intake of saturated fat and replace it with healthier monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which are found in nuts, seeds, fish, and most oils. Adding these heart-healthy fats to regular meals and cooking methods often is the easiest way to increase a person’s intake. (Locked) More »

Taming high triglycerides without fish oil?

High triglycerides may increase the risk of heart disease. A healthy diet low in saturated fat and refined carbohydrates, plus regular exercise, can help lower these blood fats. Levels higher than 500 mg/dL should generally be treated with medication. (Locked) More »

Rethinking good cholesterol

Long known as the “good” cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol seems to be more of a bystander than a beneficial molecule when it comes to preventing heart disease. People with genetic mutations that cause high HDL don’t have fewer heart attacks than those without those mutations. And five major clinical trials that sought to raise HDL levels with drugs have failed to lower heart disease risk. More »

Do premature heart attacks run in your family?

About 12% of people ages 20 and older have a parent or sibling who had a heart attack or angina (chest pain caused by narrowed coronary arteries) before the age of 50. Over all, these people are roughly twice as likely to have a heart attack than people without that family history. They should be extra vigilant about monitoring and managing their blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels. Lifestyle habits such as eating a healthy diet, getting regular exercise, avoiding tobacco, and maintaining a healthy weight may be sufficient, but some people need to take medications. (Locked) More »

Is advanced lipoprotein testing useful?

Advanced lipoprotein testing measures the size, distribution, and number of the different types of tiny, protein-covered particles that carry cholesterol through the body. But there is no solid evidence that these tests can improve a person’s heart health. (Locked) More »

Managing statin muscle pain

Muscle aches and cramps—the most common side effects of statins—are more common in women than in men. Treating vitamin D deficiencies and low thyroid hormone levels, changing prescriptions, and making lifestyle changes may help. (Locked) More »