Good vs. Bad Cholesterol
Nathan Laufer, MD, is a board-certified cardiologist on staff at Banner Estrella Medical Center.
Question: What is cholesterol and why should I care if my physician tells me to watch my cholesterol?
Answer: High cholesterol puts you at risk for a number of health related illnesses, most commonly heart disease and strokes. According to the American Heart Association, 105 million Americans have a total cholesterol of 200 mg/dL* or higher—a level at which cardiovascular risk begins to occur.
So what is cholesterol? Cholesterol is, in fact, a natural product of the liver. Most healthy bodies make enough cholesterol on their own to cover the body’s needs—such as nerve insulation, the creation of cell membranes or the production of certain hormones. However, you also ingest cholesterol when you eat fatty foods, egg yolks, liver, and meat. Depending on your diet, it could be too much for your body to handle. There are two types of cholesterol—good cholesterol (HDL) and bad cholesterol (LDL).
Excess bad cholesterol (LDL) could increase the risk of plaque formation (cholesterol buildup) in your arteries. The buildup blocks the blood carrying oxygen to the heart, and if enough blood and oxygen cannot reach your heart, you may suffer chest pains or, in some cases, mild heart attacks.
Additionally, if you have cholesterol build up that breaks apart and travels down the arteries, an artery could be completely blocked, leading to a serious heart attack. The American Heart Association recommends that your LDL be less than 100 mg/dL. If you already are diagnosed with heart disease, the LDL should be less than 80 mg/dL. This number can be altered through diet and exercise. Talk to your physician today about decreasing your LDL numbers.
Yet, in the body, for everything bad there is something good. HDL (good) cholesterol protects against heart disease by “soaking up” excess cholesterol and returning it to the liver for disposal. So for HDL, higher numbers are better. The American Heart Association recommends your HDL be greater than 40
Your total cholesterol levels can be determined through a “lipoprotein profile”—a test that can be done by most primary care physicians or your cardiologist. The best way to control your cholesterol is to get a cholesterol screening, eat foods low in saturated fat and cholesterol, maintain a healthy weight, exercise regularly and follow all your health care professional's recommendations.
*Cholesterol levels are measured in milligrams (mg) of cholesterol per deciliter (dL) of blood.