Cholesterol, a soft, wax-like substance, is found in every cell in the body, and it plays a role in the construction of cell membranes. The liver manufactures sufficient cholesterol for the body's needs, and some foods contain cholesterol too. Lipoproteins are the vehicles that transport cholesterol around the body. These proteins form a protective casing for the cholesterol so it will not separate from the blood. While some cholesterol is necessary, excessive amounts are associated with an increased risk for cardiovascular disease and strokes. For this reason, patients who are twenty years old and older are advised to have a blood test to measure their cholesterol at least once every four to six years. Ideally, total cholesterol readings should be below 200mg/dL, and some health organizations recommend that total cholesterol be no higher than 185mg/dL. Total cholesterol measurements above 240mg/dL are considered high.
The major cholesterol types, benefits, risks, and management strategies are outlined below.
Low-Density Lipoprotein Cholesterol
Low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, colloquially referred to as 'bad' cholesterol, makes up the majority of the body's total cholesterol. This form of cholesterol is responsible for the transportation of cholesterol from the liver to other tissues in the body. After all of the body's tissues have received the amount of cholesterol they need to function properly, any leftover low-density lipoproteins are released into the bloodstream. These can accumulate along the walls of blood vessels, leading to narrowing and hardening of the arteries. Over time, hardened and narrowed arteries increase the risk of heart attack and stroke. In fact, having high levels of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol is considered a major risk factor for cardiovascular issues, and doctors look at this measurement very closely when performing cholesterol testing. Currently, guidelines suggest that low-density lipoprotein readings below 100mg/dL are optimal, and readings between 130mg/dL and 159mg/dL are categorized as borderline high. Measurements of 160mg/dL to 189mg/dL are classified as high, and those above 189mg/dL are considered very high. Since it can be especially difficult to lower low-density lipoprotein, patients with elevated readings may need to take medication to reduce their readings.
Uncover the details on high-density lipoprotein cholesterol next.