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The Good and the Bad about Cholesterol

Por Eleazar Lara-Pantin, MD, MSc.* -

Not all cholesterol is bad. Some forms of cholesterol actually benefit our bodies.

Our bodies make two types of fat from the fats and sugars it gets out of the food we eat. These are called triglycerides and cholesterol.
When normal (150 mg/dl for triglycerides and 200 mg/dl for cholesterol), the levels of both kinds of fat in our blood perform important functions that keep us alive and healthy. When our blood transports greater quantities of fat, that fat damages the walls of our arteries like rust on the inside of metal water pipes. This damage reduces the amount of room through which blood and water should flow freely.

The Damaging Effects

As triglycerides, cholesterol, and calcium salts build up, the damage is great, and the inner linings of the arteries lose their perfect smoothness. This damage produces a reaction in some blood components that lead to clots, which block the damaged artery completely and render it useless.
If the blockage occurs in one of the arteries leading to the heart, the heart muscle may die resulting in what we know as a heart attack. If this blockage occurs in one of the arteries that transport blood to the brain, a cerebro-vascular problem such as a stroke may happen.

The Determining Factors

Many factors influence cholesterol. The limit of 200 milligrams we mentioned earlier applies to total cholesterol and includes the sum of cholesterol’s three main components: good cholesterol (HDL) and bad cholesterols (LDL and VLDL).
Two people of the same gender, height, and age with 220 milligrams of cholesterol per deciliter in their blood may have different probabilities of having heart attacks. The one with a higher level of HDL (good cholesterol) will have a lower risk of a heart attack than the other because HDL causes no harm and also protects the body from the harm the other two can cause.

Not only should you want a normal total cholesterol level, but you also want high HDL levels (at least 20 percent of the total) and low LDL and VLDL levels. In addition to following a healthy eating plan, get on a disciplined exercise program. Physical exercise will increase the levels of good cholesterol (HDL) in your body. It will also reduce other risk factors such as stress, obesity, and a sedentary lifestyle.

* Dr. Lara-Pantin, a nutrition specialist, is Vice President of Product Development for DrTango, Inc.


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