By John White, M.D.
The news media, your doctor and your mother are always talking about your cholesterol. How high is it? How high is too high? While you’re at it, what is cholesterol?
What is commonly called “cholesterol” is really a fatty, waxy-like substance that is found in all cells of the body. Without cholesterol, you cannot live. It is needed to make your skin; to make the hormones like testosterone, estrogen and Vitamin D that circulate in your blood; for the protective coating of your nerves; and to help you digest your food.
Where Does Cholesterol Come From?
Your liver makes the vast majority of the cholesterol in your body. About 80% of the cholesterol in your body is made this way. The other 20% comes from the food you eat.
When your doctor measures your cholesterol level, what is actually being measured are proteins that carry cholesterol around in your blood. These proteins are necessary because cholesterol, like cooking oil, doesn’t mix with water. So these proteins allow the cholesterol to be carried in your blood. There are several different types of these proteins, but the main ones are HDL and LDL.
What is HDL or “Good” Cholesterol?
HDL is commonly called “good” cholesterol. This is because it carries cholesterol from other parts of your body back to your liver. Once at the liver, the cholesterol is either recycled back out to the body, or it is lost in your intestines. People with higher levels of HDL seem to be protected from diseases like heart attacks and strokes. About 20-25% of the cholesterol in your blood is carried by HDL.
What is LDL or “Bad” Cholesterol?
LDL is commonly called “bad” cholesterol. That is because it carries cholesterol from your liver out to the rest of your body, where it could possibly build up in your arteries and cause a heart attack. LDL makes up about 70-75% of the cholesterol in your blood.
What is High Cholesterol?
High cholesterol is a condition in which the amount of cholesterol circulating through your blood is higher than average. High cholesterol by itself usually has no signs or symptoms; that’s why your doctor recommends having your cholesterol tested from time to time.
Why should you worry about high cholesterol? Well, people that have high cholesterol seem to be at increased risk of developing Coronary Heart Disease (commonly called a heart attack), strokes and peripheral arterial disease (a condition in which the blood vessels in your legs get blocked).
What Can You Do If You Have High Cholesterol?
The most effective way to control high cholesterol is through lifestyle changes centered on proper diet, maintaining your ideal weight, exercise, and stopping smoking if you do smoke. Another way to control your cholesterol is by the use of medication. There are several different types of medication your doctor may prescribe. Some may be more effective than others. By working with your doctor and other professionals, like dieticians and nutritionists, you can help keep your cholesterol at safe levels. Have you had your cholesterol checked lately?
To learn more, contact the experts at The University of Tennessee Family Medicine Center at 731-423-1932 or visit us online at www.uthsc.edu/utfamjac.
The University of Tennessee
Family Medicine Center
294 Summar Drive
Jackson, TN 38301