Is cholesterol bad? Don’t be afraid to ask!
We have all heard of cholesterol, even had friends brag about low cholesterol numbers or stress when high. But we might be shy if we don’t really understand the science behind why it is such a focus of our overall heart health.
So what exactly is cholesterol and in what ways is it linked to heart attack and stroke?
Cholesterol is not all bad! We produce it naturally in our liver and it contributes to the formation of our cell membranes and vital hormones. However, too much dietary cholesterol will cause to many cholesterol molecules to circulate in the bloodstream.
When you doctor conducts a blood serum cholesterol test, it measures 4 components:
1. Total cholesterol
2. LDL cholesterol (think L for lousy)
3. HDL cholesterol (think H for helpful)
LDL stands for Low Density Lipoprotein (fatty proteins). A large number of LDL molecules in your bloodstream can be dangerous because they can stick to the inside of artery walls that have become inflamed or damaged. If LDL starts to stick, it forms arterial plaque, which over time can narrow the arteries, a process called stenosis. This is bad for most arteries, but especially the coronary arteries that provide the heart with blood to keep the tissues alive.
If the coronary arteries narrow too much, this can trigger a heart attack. Time is of the essence in restoring circulation to a narrowed artery, or else the heart tissue will die. If too much heart tissue dies, the person can die.
Sometimes a piece of the plaque will break off, form a blood clot, and travel to other parts of the body. If it passes through a narrowed artery, it can block it completely. If the clot travels to the heart, it can trigger a heart attack. If it travels to the brain, it can cause a stroke.
Now that you know about how LDL cholesterol can harm the arteries and heart and lead to heart attack and stroke, you’re no doubt wondering what you can do to protect yourself.
You can lower LDL cholesterol in your diet and boost HDL cholesterol, which helps clean out the arteries and prevent LDL from sticking with a healthy diet, and a relaxed lifestyle, meaning low stress. Reduce the stress in your life and your arteries will not be as inflamed and LDL will not stick. Follow a heart-healthy lifestyle and see what a difference it can make in your cholesterol numbers.
It is a good idea to get your cholesterol checked on a regular basis. So you don’t forget – make that annual check up appointment right after your birthday.