All About Cholesterol

Written by Kristen Miranda, MD, MPH

What is cholesterol? Is all cholesterol bad?

Is all cholesterol bad?

No! Cholesterols are fatty substances that are essential for human life. They are used as building blocks in our cell walls, help create natural steroid hormones (like estrogen and testosterone), and they with digesting food.

The problem is that cholesterol, and the proteins that carry it around the body are associated with heart disease which can lead to things like heart attack and stroke.

The low-density lipo-proteins (LDL) are often called “bad” cholesterol because they have been linked to damaging the arteries.

Other cholesterol carrying proteins called high-density lipo-proteins (HDL) actually are associated with lower cardiovascular risk and may clean up some of the damage. HDL is sometimes known as “good” cholesterol.

Another form of cholesterol called Triglycerides are fatty substances related to cholesterol that also contribute to your risk of heart disease and we usually measure them when we are measuring cholesterol in the blood.

Should I avoid eating high cholesterol foods?

High cholesterol foods aren't major causes of high blood cholesterol, but they can contribute to inflammation (irritation) in your body. Foods that you should watch out for are junk foods like empty carbohydrates like juices, candy, and baked goods. These foods are more likely to cause high cholesterol.

Can I do natural things to improve my cholesterol levels?

Yes, there are lots of things you can do that will help lower your bad cholesterol levels, like improving your diet and exercising. We don't fully understand what types of diets are best but generally diets that are low in simple carbohydrates (sugars) and that are higher in healthy fats like unsaturated plant oils, fish, and non-starchy vegetables will keep your healthier.

Foods like oats and beans actually help pull bad cholesterol out of your body through your stool, so it’s a good idea to incorporate those.

What is atherosclerosis and why do I care?

Atherosclerosis is when the artery walls thicken as a result of damage. This means that the tubes that carry your blood, which should be flexible, start to become brittle and stiff.

This increases the risk of diseases related to blood circulation like heart attack, erectile dysfunction, peripheral vascular disease, and stroke. High cholesterol, especially with certain types of cholesterol carrying proteins like low-density lipo-protein (LDL) are linked to this type of damage. That's why we check cholesterol levels and for people at increased risk may recommend medications such as statin therapy.

Do I need to know my cholesterol levels?

Not necessarily. If you haven't had your cholesterol levels checked ever or haven't had them checked recently we can help you decide if you need to get them checked. If you do we will order the labs and you can go to a local lab to have them drawn. When they come back we will explain the results and help you decide on next steps.

The views expressed in this article intend to highlight alternative studies and induce conversation. They are the views of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of HeyDoctor, and are for informational purposes only, even if and to the extent that this article features the advice of physicians and medical practitioners. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment, and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.

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