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Understanding Cholesterol and Triglycerides

Understanding Cholesterol and Triglycerides Will Improve Your Health

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Updated December 05, 2009

Research has helped us improve our understanding of cholesterol and triglycerides and the role they play in many disease states. Advertisers promote their low cholesterol products; low fat ice cream, fat free milk, etc. But how many of us really understand cholesterol and triglycerides? There is good fat and bad fat; high density and low density, etc. What does all that mean and how does it impact our health? Let's take a look at cholesterol and triglycerides and how they impact our dietary choices and our health. Understanding cholesterol and triglycerides is the key to a healthy diet.

Food For Thought - Moving Toward a Healthy Diet

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:

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

    What is Lipodystrophy?

Not All Fats Are Bad

While 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:

Page 2 teaches us what we can do to keep our cholesterol and triglycerides under control.

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