Cholesterol is a fat-like substance that’s essen- tial for normal body function. It plays a role in producing cell membranes and hormones. Triglycerides are a type of fat that makes up one portion of the cholesterol.
Cholesterol is found in different forms in your body. One form is “good” cholesterol, called high density lipoprotein (HDL), and the other is “bad” cholesterol, called low density lipopro- tein (LDL). These lipoproteins are actually pro- tein molecules that carry cholesterol through your bloodstream. LDL, the bad form, carries cholesterol from the liver, where it’s made, to the rest of your body. HDL, the good form, car- ries cholesterol back to the liver, where it’s removed from your body.
You need to know your ratio of HDL to LDL to determine just what harm cholesterol may be doing to your heart (your doctor can draw your blood and perform a fasting cholesterol profile test to determine your ratio). You want to have higher levels of HDL and lower levels of LDL, because that means your body is getting rid of extra cholesterol. When your blood has too much LDL and too little HDL, the cholesterol may combine with other substances to form plaques on the walls of your arteries. Plaques make your arteries narrow and less flexible, which leads to a condition called atherosclerosis.
Atherosclerosis reduces blood flow, often lead- ing to strokes and heart attacks.
About 2/3 of the cholesterol in your body is pro- duced in your liver, and the rest comes from the foods you eat. Your body needs cholesterol for certain functions; in most cases, the liver pro- duces what the body will use and doesn’t need extra. The balance between good cholesterol and bad is often determined by the food choices you make. Foods high in dietary cholesterol and saturated fats increase your bad cholesterol and decrease your good cholesterol. To make matters worse, some people inherit genes that actually cause the body to make more bad cho- lesterol and less of the good kind. Unhealthy levels of cholesterol can build up quickly in people who inherit this condition of over-production.
When you consume more calories than you need, your body turns the extra calories into triglycerides that are stored in your fat cells for later use. Triglycerides are grouped in with the LDL as bad cholesterol because high levels of triglycerides are thought to lead to plaque build- up in the arteries. No one knows exactly how triglycerides are involved in plaque formation, but high levels have been consistently linked to heart disease. Researchers are continually trying to discover exactly.
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