What Is Cholesterol?
If you watch TV, chances are you have seen an advertisement for cholesterol medicine. But what exactly is cholesterol and is it as bad as these advertisements make it out to be?
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that is in all of the cells inside your body. It is something that your body produces naturally and something your body needs! You see, cholesterol is used by your body to make hormones, vitamin D and other things that help you digest your food. The trouble with cholesterol is when you don’t have the right balance of cholesterol types.
There are two types of Cholesterol.
- HDL – which stands for high-density lipoproteins, is called the “good” cholesterol because it carries cholesterol from other parts of your body back to your liver. Your liver then removes the cholesterol from your body.
- LDL – which stands for low-density lipoproteins, is called the “bad” cholesterol because a high LDL level leads to a buildup of cholesterol in your arteries.
When your LDL cholesterol is high, it can combine with other substances inside your blood and form plaque. You can think of this plaque as being somewhat similar to the plaque your dentist removes every six months from your teeth, only instead of being on your teeth; it’s inside your blood vessels.
Over time, if this plaque builds up it can lead to coronary artery disease which is when your blood vessels become narrow or blocked. If your blood can’t get around your body and to your heart, it can lead to chest pain or even a heart attack.
The other side of the cholesterol coin is that your HDL, or good cholesterol, can be too low. Trans fats in our diets can increase the bad LDL cholesterol and decrease the good HDL cholesterol. Trans fats happen when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil to harden it. Trans fats are in some fried and processed foods, which is why you hear so much about eating a healthy diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables.
Diet is essential when it comes to keeping your cholesterol in check, but your genes also play a role in your cholesterol numbers. Having low good HDL cholesterol and high bad LDL cholesterol can run in families, so if you have a family member who has high cholesterol, you may want to get your cholesterol check and speak to your doctor about ways to control it.
Some ways you can try to control your cholesterol include:
- Eat healthier – Avoid processed and fried foods as much as possible and eat fruits and vegetable every day. Healthy oils like those found in some types of fish are also excellent for maintaining healthy good cholesterol levels.
- Exercise – Some studies show that regular exercise can improve cholesterol levels.
- Medication – If the first two aren’t enough to get your numbers where your doctor wants them to be, adding cholesterol-lowering medication may be the next step. If your doctor prescribes you this medicine, be sure to take it as directed. If you ever have any questions about your medications, you can always contact our pharmacists here at Neighbors Pharmacy!
*This article is not to be considered or intended to substitute for medical advice. Please contact your doctor or our pharmacists for more information about your particular situation.