Cholesterol: The good, the bad, and the ugly

Cholesterol: The good, the bad, and the ugly.


Upon request. I’ve written this blog to give you a very basic education about cholesterol.  Next week we’ll talk about the impact of diet and nutrition on cholesterol. 


Cholesterol has become a dirty word in the world of medicine today but many people actually forget how important cholesterol is to the processes of our body. 


Cholesterol makes up the border or membrane of every one of our cells.  Its double layer allows for nutrients to be transported in and out of the cells in an organized way.


Cholesterol is necessary to produce many things in our body like Vitamin D, steroid hormones (your sex hormones: estrogen, progesterone, testosterone. etc), and bile acids (which break down fats). 


Cholesterol is produced in our liver which increases and decreases production according to the amount of cholesterol rich foods we eat. 


Want to know what your levels mean?  Download this free infographic!


You know how oil and water don’t mix well together?  Well the same is true for cholesterol and blood.  So in order for cholesterol to move from one place to another, it must wear a coat of a sort.  This coat is known as a lipoprotein.  You will know these protein coats according to their initials, HDL and LDL.  HDL and LDL aren’t cholesterol but the wrappers or coats that allow for cholesterol to move through the body.  Their independent functions are important because their amounts give us a snapshot of what is happening in the body. 


HDL, aka high-density lipoprotein is responsible for mopping up excess cholesterol and bringing it to the liver for disposal.  That is why we call it “good” or “healthy” cholesterol.


LDL, aka low-density lipoprotein has the job of transporting cholesterol and fat from the liver to the rest of the body where we use those fats to build or maintain cell membranes, make hormones, or for storage.  It is what we know as “bad” or lousy cholesterol.  The thing is that LDL is actually very important for the body but the problem arises when there is more circulating LDL than is needed for the jobs required.  Think of construction crews standing around while one person is working.  When LDL is circulating in excess of what is needed, it tends to be deposited as plaque in bad places like you’re your blood vessels. 


How much LDL is too much?  Download this free infographic!



That being said, there seems to be an association between the levels and ratios of cholesterol and the risk of a premature death from cardiovascular disease. 

For example:

  • One study showed that no one has died from cardiovascular disease while having a cholesterol level below 150 mg/dl.
  • With a total cholesterol level of 210 mg/dl, you would have a 50% higher risk of premature death due to atherosclerosis. 
  • Shockingly, going from 200-260 mg/dl bumps up the chance of death by 500%. 


Before you check out the infographic, a short word about triglycerides:  The amount of fat in the blood levels (measured as triglyceride levels) predicts the body’s ability to metabolize fat.  When looking at your blood work it is good to not only look at your triglyceride levels overall but also the triglyceride to HDL ratio.   This ratio is increasingly becoming a great predictor of heart disease risk.


Check out this infographic for more information about levels (the good, the bad, and the ugly)



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