Decoding Cholesterol: The Holy Trinity And More

Cholesterol has become something of a slur, with people fearing its very mention. The reality is that cholesterol isn’t all bad. In fact, without it, your body might struggle to function properly! The trick is to strike the right balance. We break it down and show you how to have the good things in life but stay healthy too. 

Cholesterol: Good Vs. Evil? 

Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that’s found in all the cells in your body. It moves through your body via carriers called lipoproteins. Food like eggs, meat, dairy products like cheese, and animal fats also contain cholesterol in varying amounts

Good Guy… Cholesterol is needed for creating vitamin D, producing hormones, and even substances that allow your body to digest food properly. Your body creates its own cholesterol, but you might also consume some through your diet. In moderate amounts, this is fine.

Gone Bad… The problem occurs when you binge on foods with cholesterol, because they also contain trans fats and saturated fats that can trigger a greater production of cholesterol by your body. When you have excess cholesterol in your system, it starts forming a hard deposit on the walls of your arteries, causing them to narrow and become less flexible – a condition called atherosclerosis. This, in turn, raises your risk of a stroke or heart attack.

Not All Cholesterol Is Created Equal: LDL vs. HDL vs. Triglycerides 

It’s hard to miss the constant references to your LDL, HDL, and triglyceride levels, whether in articles you’ve read or in your own medical reports. Your total cholesterol number is a function of the levels of these lipids in your body. Here’s how they stack up. 

Triglycerides:  The body’s most common fat, these are obtained from the diet via foods like oils/fats as well as from excessive calories consumed by the body. High-carb foods like those with fructose, sugar, and refined flour can especially elevate triglyceride.

When you consume more than your body’s energy needs, the body converts the food to triglycerides that are stored in fat cells to use later as an energy source. Routinely eating more than you burn can cause high triglyceride levels. This is transported in your body through a lipoprotein called very low density lipoprotein (VLDL). High VLDL alongside high LDL or low HDL can cause fatty buildup in arteries.

Low density lipoprotein (LDL): High levels of LDL can build up cholesterol in arteries and cause them to narrow. When clots stick in these narrow vessels, it can cause a heart attack or stroke, which is why LDL is often dubbed “bad” cholesterol, just like VLDL. Loading up on foods rich in saturated fats and trans fats like cakes and cookies, fried foods, some kinds of margarine, meats, and full-fat dairy products can raise LDL levels.

High density lipoprotein (HDL): HDL picks up excess cholesterol circulating in the body and brings it to the liver to breakdown and purge from the body. This has earned it the moniker of “good” cholesterol. Here’s how you can up your HDL levels.

Decoding The Numbers 

Take a look at the numbers here to check if your cholesterol levels are hitting the sweet spot.*

  • Total cholesterol levels of below 200 mg/dL are ideal.  
  • A result of 200–239 mg/dL makes your borderline high and 240 mg/dL and above is considered high.  
  • However, these target numbers may be lower for someone with family history or high risk of heart disease. 

*Sources: Mayo Clinic, Indian Heart Association, National Institutes of Health

Get Your Cholesterol Levels Right: Start Now! 

Some simple lifestyle changes can make a world of difference when you’re trying to get your cholesterol numbers down to better levels. Here are some to get you started: 

  • Get moving! Exercise and physical activity can help improve HDL numbers. Just 30 minutes, five days a week could help! 
  • Eat right. Consume more fiber (whole grains, beans) and omega-3 fatty acids (in walnuts, fatty fish like salmon) and cut your intake of saturated fats (in full-fat dairy and red meat) and trans fats (in fried or processed foods). 
  • Try and lose some weight. Being even a little overweight can make your cholesterol levels go higher.
  • Stop smoking. This will help bump up levels of HDL cholesterol and cut your risk of heart attack. 
  • Reduce alcohol intake. Those with high cholesterol levels may already be at greater risk of heart disease and stroke. Too much alcohol intake could also elevate your risk of stroke, heart attack, and high blood pressure. 

Discover more ways to improve your cholesterol numbers and beat your high cholesterol problem today! 

References

  1. Cholesterol, US National Library of Medicine
  2. Control Your Cholesterol, American Heart Association
  3. Triglycerides, US National Library of Medicine
  4. HDL (Good), LDL (Bad) Cholesterol and Triglycerides, American Heart Association
  5. Cholesterol, US National Library of Medicine
  6. HDL Cholesterol, Mayo Clinic  
  7. Improve Your Cholesterol, Mayo Clinic