Virtual Imaging: Early Detection Saves Lives. Imagery of two elderly couples jogging outside and smiling.

Cholesterol: The Good and The Bad

“Work Out Often to Get Rid of that Pesky Cholesterol”
“Eat These Foods to Help Lower Your Cholesterol”
“Try This New Medication to Reduce Cholesterol”

You’ve probably seen some variation on these headlines before. Within each article is usually a glaring warning, telling you to be cautious of your cholesterol levels for fear of suffering from coronary heart disease, heart attack, or stroke.

While high cholesterol levels are certainly a major risk factor for each of these conditions, most of these articles don’t discuss the fact that not all cholesterol is harmful — in fact, according to the American Heart Association, our bodies actually use cholesterol to keep the body healthy. Below are some facts to help you understand more about cholesterol and the role it plays in the body.

What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a wax-like material that is produced in the body, mostly in the liver. We also receive cholesterol from certain foods, like meat, eggs, and dairy products. Because cholesterol is unable to dissolve in blood, carriers called lipoprotein carry it through our bloodstreams.

What does cholesterol do for the body?
Cholesterol is necessary for proper functioning and maintenance of the body. Our bodies use it to create the outer coats of cells, form bile acids to digest food in the intestines, and produce Vitamin D and hormones.

What are the types of cholesterol?
● LDL: Low density lipoproteins, or LDL, are most often referred to as the “bad” cholesterol. Normally, LDL particles help to move cholesterol to the parts of the body in need of it. However, in high amounts, LDL places cholesterol in the arteries, causing plaque build up on artery walls. This can lead to blockages and possibly heart attacks.
● HDL: High density lipoproteins, or HDL, are known as the “good” cholesterol because of how they help to fight against LDL deposits in the arteries. HDL removes surplus cholesterol and moves it to the liver where it is either recycled or used to make bile. When HDL levels are low, it usually indicates a higher risk of heart disease.
● Triglycerides: Triglycerides are fats used to help store energy in the form of unused calories from food. If you’re eating more calories than you burn, you may have high triglyceride levels. Increased amounts of triglycerides cause hardened arteries and thick artery walls, both of which are risk factors for stroke, heart attack, and heart disease.
● Lp(a): Lipoprotein (a),or Lp(a) for short, is a variation of the LDL cholesterol. An individual’s genetic make up largely contributes to the amount of Lp(a) present in the body. In high levels, Lp(a) is considered a risk factor for cardiovascular disease and like LDL, can create plaque buildup in the arteries. However, researchers are still only beginning to understand how Lipoprotein (a) actually causes heart disease.

How do I find out my cholesterol levels?
One of the most common ways of checking your cholesterol levels is through a blood test. The American Heart Association recommends that people ages 20 and older get regular blood tests every four to six years.

Have a feeling that your cholesterol could be affecting your cardiovascular health? Call Virtual Imaging at (770) 730-0119 to schedule an appointment.