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Cholesterol: The Good and the Bad

Cholesterol: The Good and the Bad

Cholesterol has been singled out as one of the primary culprits behind cardiovascular disease, and for good reason. Having high cholesterol — which applies to 86 million American adults age 20 and older — places you at higher risk for serious heart disease, such as heart attack and stroke.

As an endocrinologist who specializes in hormones and lipids, Dr. Sean P. Nikravan wants to paint a much larger picture when it comes to cholesterol, starting with the fact that your body relies on cholesterol for some very important functions. It just needs it in moderation, not in excess. Let’s take a look.

The role of cholesterol in your body

Cholesterol is part of a larger group of fatty substances called lipids, which are considered the building blocks for the cells in your body. Despite its reputation as being bad, each and every cell in your body needs cholesterol to function. 

More specifically, cholesterol helps form the membranes around each cell. In addition to this cellular support, cholesterol also:

Cholesterol is so vital to your body’s function that it doesn’t rely on an outside source for these lipids — your liver produces all the cholesterol you need.

How cholesterol gets around

Cholesterol, as well as triglycerides, don’t travel well in your body because they don’t mix with water. To make sure the lipids get to where they need to go, they combine with proteins to form lipoproteins that travel through your blood.

You have two main types of these lipoproteins:

  1. High-density lipoproteins (HDLs) that deliver excess cholesterol to your liver 
  2. Low-density lipoproteins (LDLs) that transport the lipids to your cells

Under ideal circumstances, you have a good balance of LDLs and HDLs that keep the lipids in your blood moving.

When cholesterol turns bad

It’s no exaggeration to say that your body can’t live without cholesterol. Where the problems start to arise is when you upset the natural balance of cholesterols in your body by taking in outside sources. 

As we mentioned, your body produces all of the cholesterol it needs, but modern diets pile on the cholesterol through oils, meats, dairy products, eggs, and other sources of fats. As a result, you’re taking in more cholesterol than you need and the fatty substance is starting to collect in your bloodstream. 

This occurs because the LDLs are overwhelming the ability of your HDLs to cart off the excess cholesterol — there’s simply too much floating around. This can then lead to a dangerous narrowing in your blood vessels as the extra cholesterol forms plaques, which can also increase your risks for blood clots and stroke.=

The takeaway that we want to leave you with is that cholesterol is essentially good, but the old adage about there being too much of a good thing certainly applies.

If you want to learn how to balance your cholesterol and lipids and improve your health, we’re here to help. These efforts help boost your cardiovascular health and also improve your hormonal health. As a bonus, tackling high cholesterol can help you manage your weight better.

To learn more about cholesterol management, please contact Sean P. Nikravan, MD, in Newport Beach, California, to schedule a visit or request an appointment online today.

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