It gets a bad rep, cholesterol, so its time to set the record straight.

It’s a molecule that helps with cell function, absorbs dietary fat, helps make bile salts and is the basis for steroid hormones.

It’s pretty important!! So the body makes it, primarily, in the liver.

Cholesterol molecules are not water soluble (think: can’t swim) so they bind to lipoproteins (they help them swim) which help transport them in the bloodstream.

There are 2 types of lipoproteins namely LDL and HDL. They stand for Low Density Lipoproteins and High Density Lipoproteins.

The LDLs job is to transport cholesterol and triglycerides (fat) to cells. The HDLs job is to carry excess cholesterol and other lipoproteins back to the liver to be recycled or excreted.

The LDLs are less dense (think: weaker) as they are made of more fat than protein. Their HDL counterparts which are made of more protein than fat are stronger. The LDLs sometimes “drop” cholesterol in our arteries due to their weaker structure. A build up of this cholesterol or “plaque” and that’s when the problems start.

Narrowed arteries due to plaque build up is known as Atherosclerosis.

The HDLs (because their job is to bring cholesterol and lipoproteins back to the liver) have properties that mean it can pick up the cholesterol left behind by the weak LDL carriers and shuttle it back to the liver.

This is why doctors like to see a higher HDL than LDL reading on your blood cholesterol test.

It’s recommended that total blood cholesterol doesn’t exceed 5 mmol/l.

LDLs no higher than 3 mmol/l.

HDLs reading HIGHER than 1 mmol/l.

It’s not enough for doctors to say your cholesterol is high. Ask for the breakdown of HDL v LDL.

A HDL reading of 2.5 mmol/l combined with an LDL reading 2.5 mmol/l will have you borderline high in regard to total cholesterol BUT individually they are both where they need to be (HDL over 1 and LDL under 3).

Ok, so this is where it gets tricky.

Remember how we said the LDLs are weaker and tend to drop off the cholesterol in the bloodstream? The cholesterol itself isn’t inherently “bad”. The cholesterol dropped off before it reached its destination just had poor transport.

If your LDL reading is high doctors will usually prescribe drugs called statins to reduce your cholesterol. BUT the cholesterol isn’t the problem is it? It’s the LDL carriers.

LDLs are reduced without medication through improving nutrition and exercise. HDLs are also increased and help with mopping up excess cholesterol in the blood vessels. It’s win – win!

Statins will block an enzyme needed in the liver to make cholesterol. And that’s not a great idea as cholesterol has a lot of important functions as outlined in the first paragraph (scroll up for a reminder if you need to).

To ensure your blood cholesterol levels are within optimal ranges there’s a few things you can do:

Ensure body fat is within healthy ranges (Men 12-18%, Women 18-25%)
Eat nutrient dense, unprocessed foods (the less packaged food, the better)
Exercise at least 3-5 times per week (a mix of weight training and moderate to high intensity cardio works well)

*** If you are currently being treated for high cholesterol or want to be tested contact your doctor and consult with him/her before making changes to your lifestyle. Please don’t take this information as medical advice. ***

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Featured Image Credit:

Padraig O'Halloran

Manager of Spirit Leisure Centre