Understanding Good and Bad Cholesterol

For many people, the whole issue of cholesterol can be confusing. We have been told that too much cholesterol clogs arteries and is generally bad for the heart. But we are also told that there’s good cholesterol and bad cholesterol. So which is which?Cholesterol-2

The first thing to know is that cholesterol is essential for life. That’s right. The body needs cholesterol to make cell membranes, certain hormones and to ensure proper functioning of the nervous system. But all the cholesterol a person needs is produced by the liver.

Cholesterol tests measure the amounts and ratios of two types of cholesterol: low-density lipoproteins, or LDL, and high-density lipoproteins, or HDL.

Studies have shown that people with a relatively high amount of LDL cholesterol in their blood are more likely to develop heart disease. It also appears that the greater the proportion of HDL, the lower the risk for heart disease. It appears that exercise can increase the amount of HDL in the blood.

Healthcare providers encourage people to limit their intake of fatty foods and eat more low-fat foods such as whole grains, vegetables, fruits, pastas, dried peas, beans and lentils. People who get the majority of their calories from low-fat foods have a lower risk of developing heart disease, and possibly some cancers. And they are less likely to be overweight.

If you haven’t had your cholesterol tested recently, consider doing so. To learn more about cholesterol and how it affects your health, talk to your healthcare provider.

Cholesterol and triglycerides leave the liver in VLDLs and circulate in the blood. VLDLs drop off triglycerides, which are used by the tissues as energy. “Empty” VLDLs become LDLs. Some LDLs are whisked back to the liver by  Apo E. Some may be picked up by HDLs and carried back to the liver. Some LDLs are grabbed by protein receptors and pulled into cells where they can do productive work.

Cholesterol leaves your liver in low-density lipoprotein packages called VLDLs. The VLDL packages deliver energy in the form of triglycerides. Apo E carries some of the “empty” VLDL packages back to the liver for disposal, and Apo B binds other LDL packages to receptors so that they can be used by the tissues.

The more saturated fat and cholesterol you eat, the more VLDLs are made by the liver. LDLs that can’t be used by the body or disposed of stick to blood vessel walls to form plaque. Plaque buildup narrows the blood vessel and can lead to heart attack.

When you eat too much food containing cholesterol and saturated fat, or when your body produces too much cholesterol, your blood can become crowded with excess LDLs. The LDLs attach themselves to blood vessel walls, where they build up to form plaque–clogging blood vessels and leading to heart attacks

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