What is Cholesterol?Cholesterol is a fat-like substance produced primarily in our liver but also found in the foods we eat. The body makes all the cholesterol we need but what exactly do we need cholesterol for? In fact, cholesterol has several important functions including:
- the formation and maintenance of cell membranes
- the formation of sex hormones
- the production of bile salts that help digest foods
- the production of Vitamin D
What are Triglycerides?Triglycerides are the chemical form of most fats in the body and in the food we eat. When we eat, the fats are converted by our body into triglycerides, the form in which the body stores energy for when we need it. When the body needs energy, triglycerides are released and burned as fuel to meet our energy needs.
If We Need Them, Why are We Concerned About Having Too Much?As part of your routine care, your doctor will often perform a blood test that measures the amount of cholesterol and triglycerides in your blood. For some, the levels are just right. But for many, their diet, the medications they take, or their genetic make-up, causes their levels of cholesterol and triglycerides to be higher than required by the body. Unfortunately, more is not better. In fact, having too much cholesterol and triglycerides in your blood can be a threat to your health. Higher than normal levels of triglycerides and cholesterol have been linked to:
- heart disease characterized by chest pain and heart attacks
- peripheral vascular disease (clogged arteries in the legs)
- stroke as a result of clogged arteries in the head and neck
- pancreatitis and lipodystrophy
Not All Fats Are BadWhile too much fat is bad for your health, there are types of fat that are actually better for you than others. In fact, some fats have been shown to decrease your risk of heart disease. It is important to know which are the "good fats" and which are the "bad fats". There are two types of cholesterol.
- High Density Lipids (HDL)
Also known as "good cholesterol". These lipids carry harmful fatty deposits away from cells and tissues to the liver for excretion from the body. An HDL that is too low actually increases your risk of heart disease.
- ~The higher the HDL the better.~
- Low Density Lipids (LDL)
Also known as "bad cholesterol". These lipids account for most of the cholesterol in the blood. They carry cholesterol to the tissues and vessels of the body, where they are deposited on the vessel walls, causing narrowed or clogged arteries. An LDL that is too high increases your risk of heart disease.
- ~The lower the LDL the better.~
What Factors Affect Cholesterol Levels?There are many factors that can affect the levels of cholesterol. Some of these factors are out of our control; for example a genetic tendency (a family history) to have high cholesterol levels. But many of the factors are under our control. These include:
- a diet high in fats and/or carbohydrates (sugars)
- a lack of exercise
- certain medications including those used to treat HIV
Page 2 teaches us what we can do to keep our cholesterol and triglycerides under control.