If your 40th birthday is nothing but a distant memory, chances are you’ve already had the “cholesterol conversation” with your doctor.
It’s when he corners you at your yearly physical and explains that you’re no spring chicken anymore. And then he tells you that you need to start watching your cholesterol or risk heart disease, stroke or heart attack.
Most of us just accept this as a rite of passage. And by the time we’re 50 many of us of us are popping statin drugs like they’re candy to bring our cholesterol down.
But the truth is, beyond some vague idea of a waxy buildup clogging up your arteries, if you’re like most folks you know very little about cholesterol.
If you find all those terms like LDL, HDL and triglycerides downright confusing, you’re in good company. Many folks are in the same boat. And it’s no wonder, when the only message most of us ever receive is “cholesterol is bad.”
Clearing up the cholesterol mystery
The truth is cholesterol isn’t all bad. Some of it’s necessary to sustain your life. It can be found in every single cell in your body.
Your body produces about 80 percent of its own supply of cholesterol. And even so called “bad” cholesterol isn’t the complete monster mainstream medicine has told us it is. In fact, it plays some critical roles in your body.
Don’t worry we have you covered. Today we’re going to clear up the cholesterol confusion once and for all, with some easy to understand descriptions of the five types of cholesterol starting with…
1. Total cholesterol:
Total cholesterol is the easiest to understand because it’s exactly what the name implies, a measurement of your total cholesterol altogether. In other words, total cholesterol is a tally of all of the cholesterol in your body which includes your HDL, LDL and triglyceride numbers.
2. LDL cholesterol:
Low density lipoprotein or LDL cholesterol accounts for most of the cholesterol in your body. Often referred to as “bad” cholesterol, LDL is more complicated than that.
A buildup of LDL can clog your arteries raising your risk for heart disease and stroke. But it’s the diminutive, dense LDL particles that we should be the most concerned about.
These smaller stickier particles can easily become lodged in artery walls causing inflammation and plague buildup. However, the biggest threat is LDL oxidation. I’ll have more on that in a moment.
I mentioned earlier that “bad” cholesterol isn’t the total villain we’ve been led to believe. That’s because LDL also has some important jobs to do.
Cholesterol is a lipid, or fat. That means it cannot mix with water and make its way around your body in your blood on its own. It has to hitch a ride with a protein, pairing up to form a lipoprotein.
You can think of it LDL kind of like a taxi. It delivers cholesterol to your cells where it becomes a crucial building block for cell membranes. Plus LDL is used to produce critical hormones including vitamin D, testosterone and estrogen.
3. Oxidized LDL:
Oxidized LDL, or oxLDL, is mostly ignored by mainstream medicine. And yet it can be far more of a threat to your heart and health than run of the mill LDL.
Although it’s a complex process, experts say oxLDL forms when LDL cholesterol reacts with free radicals. Once oxidized the LDL becomes far more reactive, and dangerous…
- triggering inflammation
- damaging surrounding tissues
- attracting white blood cells (macrophages)
In an effort to protect you, the white blood cells surround the oxLDL molecules creating fatty cells. Those fatty cells then stick to your blood vessel walls creating plaque and clogging arteries.
4. HDL cholesterol:
High density lipoprotein, or HDL, is usually referred to as “good” cholesterol. HDL can help reduce your risk for heart disease and stroke in several different ways.
- HDL actually contains more protein than cholesterol. Those proteins suck up sometimes troublesome LDL cholesterol transporting it to your liver where it’s recycled to create bile or flushed from your body.
- HDL is anti-inflammatory, and can help relax blood vessels.
- Experts believe HDL can help prevent the oxidation of LDL.
Having higher HDL levels is considered healthy.
Triglycerides are a type of fat that your body uses for energy. If your triglycerides are high in combination with low HDL levels or high LDL your risk for heart problems and stroke may go up.
Before you fill that prescription for risky statins it’s important to understand the many important roles cholesterol plays in your body.
It’s true statins can drive your LDL cholesterol levels down to basement low levels. But it can do so without ever addressing the real danger of oxidation. To learn some tactics for tackling one of the biggest dangers to your heart health, oxLDL, click here.
She is an advocate of self-education and is passionate about the power of group knowledge sharing, like the kind found right here on HealthierTalk.com. Alice loves to share her views on holistic and natural healing as well as her, sometimes contentious, thoughts on the profit-driven inner workings of traditional medicine.
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