Cholesterol is a fatty substance that the body produces. It is a component of the cell wall, and occurs as low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL cholesterol) and high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL cholesterol).
Lipoproteins are organic molecules that are composed of both protein and fat. According to a health report from the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, lipoproteins function to carry cholesterol through the blood to all areas of the body that require it. Cholesterol is not soluble in blood serum, and therefore could not travel through the blood without a lipoprotein carrier.
Cholesterol that travels in low-density lipoprotein is called LDL cholesterol. This kind of cholesterol is also referred to as “bad” cholesterol, according to WebMD. LDL cholesterol is bad because it sticks to the walls of arteries and is a major component of the arterial plaque build-up that is characteristic of atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis narrows the arteries and can lead to heart attack or stroke. Men over the age of 35 and women over 45 should regularly check their LDL cholesterol blood level. A blood level below 100 minimizes the risk of cardiovascular problems stemming from LDL cholesterol. A blood level above 160 is high and represents a signal to start treatment aimed at bringing the level down. Patients who have heart disease should strive to achieve an LDL cholesterol level below 70.
HDL cholesterol travels through the blood with an escort of high-density lipoprotein molecules. According to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, HDL cholesterol is referred to as “good” cholesterol because it lowers the risk of heart disease by gathering “bad” cholesterol from various parts of the body and bringing it to the liver. The liver then acts to rid the body of the harmful cholesterol. Patients should strive for the highest level of HDL cholesterol they can attain. A blood level of 60 and above is correlated with a lower risk for cardiovascular disease, according to WebMD. Conversely, blood levels below 40 in men and below 50 in women are thought to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.
HDL cholesterol is so important for good health that the Mayo Clinic has published a list of ways to increase blood levels in patients whose levels are too low. Being overweight can suppress “good” cholesterol levels. Patients who shed extra pounds to achieve a more healthful weight increase their HDL cholesterol in the process. Smoking is another lifestyle trait that is detrimental to “good” cholesterol levels. In fact, people who quit smoking may increase their “good” cholesterol levels by as much as 10 percent. People who have a sedentary lifestyle should become more active. According to the Mayo Clinic, going from sedentary to getting 30 minutes of exercise five times a week may result in a five percent increase in “good” cholesterol after about two months. Of course, it is important that you talk to your doctor before you begin any kind of exercise program. He or she can recommend an exercise regimen appropriate for your physical condition.
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