Cholesterol is an essential element in the body that helps with vitamin production, hormone production, and digestion. Cholesterol travels through the body on lipoproteins. Experts have labeled the lipoproteins good and bad depending on the protein’s density.
LDL: the lousy cholesterol
Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) creates plaque buildup in the arteries. If left untreated, this buildup can lead to heart attacks and chest pain because the plaque prevents oxygen-rich blood from flowing freely through the arteries. Plaque buildup leads to coronary artery disease and a host of other health issues that are difficult to reverse.
HDL: the healthy cholesterol
High-density lipoprotein (HDL) takes cholesterol and transfers it to the liver, so the liver can eliminate it from the body. This lipoprotein is considered “good” because it flushes excess cholesterol out of the system. High HDL levels reduce the risk of heart disease.
What are triglycerides?
Triglycerides, also known as lipids, function as part of the LDL and HDL system. A triglyceride is a type of fat stored by the body. The body stores triglycerides to provide energy when needed and acquires triglycerides through food. Unused calories get stored in fat cells and travel to other parts of the body via the bloodstream.
Just like HDL and LDL, triglyceride levels also vary, and higher levels increase the risk of heart disease. People that consume a large number of calories and do not exercise tend to have high triglyceride levels.
Managing cholesterol levels
The key to managing cholesterol requires maintaining high HDL and low LDL levels. Patients should monitor caloric intake and the fat content in foods. Understand the difference between unsaturated and saturated fat. Similar to the LDL and HDL dynamic, saturated fat is considered good and unsaturated fat is considered bad.
The lipid panel
To measure triglycerides, doctors perform a lipid panel on patients. A lipid panel consists of the patient’s cholesterol levels, LDL, HDL, and triglycerides. Some panels give detailed information regarding the presence and size of fat molecules. Before the test, patients refrain from eating for 9-12 hours and doctors take a blood sample to test the cholesterol levels. After determining a patient’s cholesterol levels, a doctor will review the results and give recommendations for leading a healthier lifestyle. Patients should speak to a healthcare provider to learn more about lipid panels and possibly schedule one especially if there’s a family history of heart disease.