Good and Bad – What’s it All Mean?
The area of cardiovascular health that confuses people the most are their cholesterol levels. What is low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and why is it bad? What is high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and why is it good? In fact, what is cholesterol to begin with? And, can only pharmaceuticals make a difference in your cholesterol levels or are there natural ways to make favorable changes? This page will provide you with answers to these questions.
Cholesterol – The Glue That Holds You Together!
Cholesterol is a fascinating molecule because it is used widely throughout your body. To begin with cholesterol is required to build and maintain all cell membranes. Without cholesterol you would be a large puddle on the floor! In addition to providing this structural purpose, cholesterol also plays an important role in:
· regulating cell membrane fluidity.
· intracellular transport, cell signaling and nerve conduction.
· the liver where it’s converted to bile to aid in the digestion of fats and the absorption of key fat soluble vitamins like Vitamin A, D, E and K.
· the formation of key hormones such as the adrenal gland hormones of cortisol and aldosterone and the sex hormones of progesterone, estrogens and testosterone.
As you can see from this list, not only does cholesterol hold you together but it also plays a key role in your nervous system, digestive system, immune system, cardiovascular system, endocrine system, and overall metabolism. Most of your cholesterol comes from your diet or is recycled within your body when bile is not eliminated through your digestive tract.
What’s Good – What’s Bad Cholesterol?
Your cholesterol is transported by your blood stream. Because it cannot dissolve in your blood it must be transported to and from the cells by carriers called lipoproteins. There are two basic carriers called low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL).
Your HDL cholesterol is called “GOOD” because it helps to keep the walls of the blood vessels clean by removing excess cholesterol and carrying it back to the liver for additional processing. Your HDL cholesterol helps to protect the endothelial cells from being damaged by LDL oxidation. This is critical because your endothelial cells play a large role in both cardiovascular and sexual health.
Your LDL cholesterol is called “BAD” because it can adhere to the inner lining of your arteries and arterioles. This can slowly build up over time. LDL cholesterol is also very sensitive to oxidative agents like Advanced Glycation End products (AGEs) to form thick, hard deposits called plaque. This process damages the endothelial cells and causes the arteries and arterioles to become less flexible resulting in the cardiovascular disease know as atherosclerosis. The narrowing and loss of flexibility of your blood vessels increases the potential for the formation of blood clots. When blood clots lodge in the narrowing artery they can cause a heart attack or stoke.
The Skinny on Cholesterol Levels!
There is a great deal of confusing information about cholesterol levels and which numbers to pay attention to. Let me give you a basic guideline and then break it down into greater detail:
If the total blood (serum) cholesterol is above 200 mg/dl or your HDL cholesterol is below 40 mg/dl or your LDL cholesterol is above 160 mg/dl you are at risk.
LDL cholesterol – All three measurements are important. However, I concentrate on the LDL cholesterol first because it is the one that you have the greatest control over. Additionally, it can cause the greatest damage to your endothelial cells affecting both cardiovascular and sexual health. The lower the LDL, the lower your risk for a stroke or heart attack! There are five basic risk levels:
- Optimal Less than 100 mg/dl
- Near Optimal 100 to 129 mg/dl
- Borderline 130 to 159 mg/dl
- High Risk 160 to 189 mg/dl
- Very High Risk 190 mg/dl and above
Because genetics and other risk factors are at play these are just general guidelines. Always seek qualified medical input to help properly determine what is best for you.
HDL cholesterol – Some consider this measurement to be even more important than the LDL reading because it seems to protect the endothelial cells. The general guideline is higher levels are always better. Men and women are different in this category:
Men – Less than 40 mg/dl puts you at risk for heart disease.
Women – Less than 50 mg/dl places you at a greater risk for heart disease.
Your goal is to increase HDL. There is a growing body of research which indicates that an HDL cholesterol level of 60 mg/dl or higher gives some additional protection against heart disease.
Total Blood (Serum) Cholesterol – Many health practitioners still focus on total blood cholesterol levels to evaluate your risk for heart disease and what your potential treatment program should be. There are three basic categories:
· Desirable – less than 200 mg/dl total blood cholesterol puts you at a relatively low risk for coronary heart disease!
· Borderline to High Risk – having a total blood cholesterol level between 200 to 239 mg/dl begins to create a concern. Most doctors will evaluate your LDL and HDL cholesterol levels to design a preventative treatment program. This could include dietary changes, physical activity, avoiding tobacco and possibly medication.
· High Risk – having total blood cholesterol level of 240 mg/dl or higher places you at twice the risk for coronary heart disease as those in the desirable category. It’s very important that your doctor knows what your LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, and triglyceride levels are so that an effective treatment program can be put in place.
Natural Changes to Your Cholesterol Levels!
The TV airways are loaded with pharmaceutical commercials designed to help you lower your total and LDL cholesterol levels. Unfortunately, most medicines carry a risk for other wellness issues. Here are some natural ways that can improve all your cholesterol levels:
· Aerobic exercise – Regular aerobic exercise is an important factor in raising HDL cholesterol. Any aerobic activity with the duration of 20 to 30 minutes is good. Recent research shows that duration is more important than intensity in raising the good HDL cholesterol. Always check with a qualified health practitioner before starting an exercise program.
· Stop smoking – Smoking profoundly affects your lungs, heart, endothelial cells, and your cardiovascular system. In addition to improving the health of these organs, when you stop smoking you will also raise your good HDL cholesterol.
· Eliminate trans fatty acids – There is a nutritional war in the marketplace to get trans fatty acids out of the food supply; and for a good reason. Trans fatty acids have a double impact on cholesterol levels. It raises the bad LDL cholesterol while reducing the good HDL cholesterol. Not a good combination.
· Alcohol in moderation – Moderation means no more that 1 or 2 drinks per day. At this level alcohol can help rise good HDL levels. Beyond this and you are asking for substantial health problems.
· Lose weight – Excess fat, especially around the midsection, is a double whammy on cholesterol levels. As fat accumulates the bad LDL cholesterol increases while the good HDL cholesterol decreases.
· Monounsaturated fats are good – The monounsaturated fats in canola oil, olive oil, and peanut butter can increase good HDL cholesterol without increasing total cholesterol levels. However, be careful that your fat intake does not cause your total caloric intake to exceed your caloric expenditure; otherwise your belly fat will increase offsetting this benefit.
· Soluble fiber – Adding soluble fiber to your diet is one of the easiest ways to positively impact your total cholesterol levels. Increasing your consumption of foods like oats, fruits, vegetables, and legumes will help to lower the bad LDL cholesterol while increasing the good HDL cholesterol.
· Cruciferous vegetables – This includes broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, mustard greens and kale because they are rich in polyphenols. Polyphenols prevent the oxidation of bad LDL cholesterol while helping to optimize lipid profiles.
· Amla berry – This berry, also known as the Indian Gooseberry, has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for over 3,000 years to prevent the effects of aging. Resent research is showing that components of this berry are able to stop the cycle of oxidation, inflammation, and plaque formation that occurs in atherosclerosis. This research indicates that it is on a par with many of the existing pharmacological therapies but without the side effects.
Understanding cholesterol levels and how they affect your health can be a confusing process. Ultimately the goal is to lower total cholesterol levels while increasing your good HDL cholesterol and decreasing your bad LDL cholesterol. Many people opt for pharmaceutical drugs to help them. Unfortunately, pharmaceuticals carry multiple risks such as muscle pain, muscle weakness, loss of memory and cognitive function, and a potential link to congestive heart failure.
Fortunately, there are several natural methods. Methods that can help you accomplish the goal of improving all three parts of your cholesterol picture and without the negative side effects. Choosing the natural path requires commitment but can also lead to additional health benefits and improved longevity. The pharmaceuticals can be your backup if this natural pathway doesn’t work for you. But always work in conjunction with a qualified health practitioner who can fine tune the best program for you.
Additional Posts about Cholesterol!
Cholesterol and Statin Drugs – Happily Married or Headed for Divorce – Cholesterol has become the enemy of the cardiovascular system and statin drugs the answer but is this really the best way to effectively fight this problem.
http://no-more-heart-disease.com/nitric-oxide-and-cholesterol/Nitric Oxide and Cholesterol[/intlink] – While nitric oxide doesn’t prevent the production of cholesterol it does help statin drugs work more effectively which can help to lower medication needs or eliminate them completely.
http://no-more-heart-disease.com/fiber-and-cholesterol-reduction/Fiber and Cholesterol Reduction![/intlink] – Learn three simple steps on how to use fiber as an effective alternative to statin drugs for cholesterol reduction.
http://no-more-heart-disease.com/fiber-cholesterol-and-other-health-benefits/Fiber, Cholesterol, and Other Health Benefits![/intlink] – Please use this fiber list as a general guide in helping you find foods and food groups that appeal to you and can significantly reduce your risk for heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer.
http://no-more-heart-disease.com/niacin-and-cholesterol-reduction/Niacin and Cholesterol Reduction![/intlink] – The relationship between niacin and cholesterol has over 50 years of clinical research to show how niacin can substantially increase HDL “Good” cholesterol while lowering LDL “Bad” cholesterol to facilitate cholesterol reduction.
As additional information becomes available I will continue to update this page. If you subscribe to the RSS feed for this website then you will be able to receive the information as soon as it is posted. Remember, even though there are new methods being developed to help repair the cardiovascular system, always work with a qualified medical professional.
Together we can work to save a million lives!