Cholesterol: the good, the bad and the one you can’t do anything about…

I don’t know about you, but when I think of cholesterol I immediately think of the golden arches, meat pies, pizza and all of the greasy takeaways that are on every corner. Not all cholesterol is bad for you, it is actually an essential ingredient in the production of cells, vitamins and hormones. The problem arises when we have too much cholesterol.

So how do we end up with too much cholesterol? This is where our food choices come in. Our liver will naturally make the cholesterol that is required for our body to function correctly, however when we consume foods that are high in saturated and trans fats, our liver goes into overdrive. This excess production from the liver can result in too much cholesterol, which has serious health implications.

Let’s take a closer look at the broad term ‘cholesterol’.

There are two main types of cholesterol, HDL and LDL.

HDL, or high density lipoprotein is the good guy. HDL cholesterol helps to move LDL cholesterol away from the arteries and back to the liver to be broken down and eliminated.

LDL, or low density lipoprotein is the bad guy. LDL builds up inside the arteries and causes that narrowing that increases the risk of heart attack and stroke. When the balance between good and bad cholesterol is not right, you increase the risk of cholesterol plaques building up inside your arteries.So, what about the one we can’t do anything about???

There is a type of cholesterol that we are born with, the level remains that same from early in our lives well into adulthood. This cholesterol is called Lipoprotein a, or Lp little a. The level of this cholesterol is completely reliant on our genetics…yep, you can blame your parents for this one!

The problem with this cholesterol is the difficulty to modify it. Normally, a person with high cholesterol would be able to reduce their levels with a good diet and increased exercise. Unfortunately, Lp little a does not change as a result of these measures!! Furthermore, this cholesterol not only blocks arteries due to fatty deposits, it also behaves like a clotting factor meaning it can clot your blood…yikes!

Eating a healthy diet, low in saturated and trans fats is a great start to getting the balance of cholesterol under control. Increasing your daily exercise is also essential to maintain a healthy heart. As for the little guy, Lp(a), there is still more work to be done. There are some medications that are showing promise, but for now it is really important to get the rest of your cholesterol parameters on target and reduce your overall cardiovascular risk. But most importantly, continue to follow up on your health, even when you are feeling well. Prevention is the best medicine!

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