Good cholesterol, Bad cholesterol
Cholesterol: It can be good. It can be bad.
Here’s how cholesterol can be good.
Cholesterol is found in all of our cells. Cells need it to keep their membranes just the right consistency.
Our body also makes things with cholesterol, like steroid hormones, vitamin D, and bile.
Here’s how cholesterol can be bad.
Cholesterol in the blood can stick to artery walls, forming plaque. This can block blood flow. Atherosclerosis is the condition where plaque narrows the space inside the artery.
Multiple factors can cause plaques to rupture, like inflammation. The body’s natural healing response to damaged tissue can cause clots. If the clots plug up arteries, blood cannot deliver vital oxygen.
If the coronary arteries that feed the heart are blocked, this could lead to a heart attack.
If the blood vessels of the brain or the carotid arteries of the neck are blocked, this could lead to a stroke.
If the arteries of the leg are blocked, this could lead to peripheral artery disease. This causes painful leg cramps when walking, numbness and weakness, or foot sores that do not heal.
So cholesterol can be good and bad. There are also different types of cholesterol sometimes called “good cholesterol” and “bad cholesterol”.
LDL, or low-density lipoprotein, is sometimes called “bad cholesterol”. It carries cholesterol that can stick to arteries, collect in the vessel lining forming plaque, and sometimes block blood flow.
HDL, or high-density lipoprotein, is sometimes called “good cholesterol”. It takes cholesterol away from the blood and returns it to the liver.
When checked, you want your LDL to be low. L for low.
You want your HDL to be high. H for High.
A blood test can measure the LDL, HDL, and total cholesterol. Usually, there are no visible symptoms of high cholesterol, so it is important to be periodically checked.
Ways to decrease your LDL and increase your HDL include:
- Eating a heart-healthy diet low in saturated and trans fats.
- Regular exercise and being more physically active.
- Maintaining healthy weight.
- Quitting smoking.
- Medications. Medications might be recommended depending on known risk factors for cardiovascular disease (such as age and family history among others).
You may already be familiar with these guidelines for heart-healthy living. They are based on research supported by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) at the National Institutes of Health, or NIH.
This video was produced by MedlinePlus, a trusted source of health information from the US National Library of Medicine.