You’ve probably heard the word “cholesterol” a lot when any discussion of heart health comes up. To keep a healthy heart, you must have low cholesterol. But then some cholesterol is apparently good, and it’s good to have a high level of it, so what’s the difference? What even is cholesterol? Where does it come from? It’s important to understand cholesterol and the role it plays in your body’s health, and how you can manage it to maintain your healthiest body.
Cholesterol, as described by the Mayo Clinic, is “a waxy substance that’s found in all of your cells and has several useful functions, including helping to build your body’s cells”. Hard to tell on the face of that what might be so bad about them, right? Cholesterol attaches itself to proteins called lipoproteins and is carried through the bloodstream. The two types of cholesterol measured by routine blood tests are HDL, high-density lipoprotein, and LDL, low-density lipoprotein.
All cholesterol is good in your body to a certain degree, but when LDL builds up in your bloodstream, they can clog up and restrict your veins and arteries, leading to a heart attack or stroke. This is why LDL is colloquially known as “bad” cholesterol. HDL, however, carries excess cholesterol to your liver, where it is broken down and removed from your body.
If, after a blood test, your “bad” cholesterol levels are too high, you may be wondering what to do. Most times, cholesterol can be managed with changes in lifestyle and diet. Lowered intake of red meats, salty and processed foods, and full-fat dairy products, along with more exercise. Alternatively, your doctor may prescribe you medication to lower it.