The real connection between cholesterol and heart disease

The relationship between heart disease and cholesterol can be complicated. The confusion may hinge on the difference between dietary cholesterol and blood cholesterol.

Listed under the calories and fat content on many nutrition labels, cholesterol often gets included in conversations about how healthy a food is.

Your liver produces cholesterol naturally to make hormones, vitamin D, and new cells, but it still is sometimes associated with poor health if it is too high. However, studies have even shown that cholesterol from food does not increase the risk of heart disease.

So why does cholesterol get such a bad reputation? The confusion likely comes from the difference between dietary cholesterol (obtained from the food you eat) and blood cholesterol (the amount in your bloodstream).

Your body adjusts its cholesterol production based on the amount you receive from your diet. Inside your body, lipoproteins move the cholesterol through your blood to different areas.

Medical professionals recommend that you order blood tests to analyze your lipoprotein levels every five years once you’re over the age of 20. These numbers are the key to your overall health as it relates to cholesterol. In fact, they’re a lot more important than how many eggs you’re eating in one day.

There are multiple types of lipoproteins that will show up on these tests.

Low-density lipoprotein (LDL): This is referred to as the “bad” cholesterol in your bloodwork results. Doctors advise that you keep this number as low as possible because these lipoproteins can lead to fat deposits and plaque in the arteries. When this happens, the arteries narrow, and this increases the chances of heart attacks and strokes.

High-density lipoprotein (HDL): This is referred to as the “good” cholesterol. A higher number in this category can effectively transport LDL cholesterol away from the arteries and into the liver where the body can dispose of it.

Triglycerides: These come from food and are the most common type of fat in the body. They are created from extra calories that you consume, and they are released when your body needs energy. Too many triglycerides in the blood can result in plaque formation and heart disease.

Elevated levels of saturated and trans fats are the most detrimental to blood cholesterol readings. These fats are found in many meats, dairy products, baked goods, and fried or processed foods. Meanwhile, incorporating foods with good fats and omega-3 fatty acids can attack your LDL levels and boost your HDL levels.

If you know someone in your family who has lived with high cholesterol, you know it becomes more important to control your diet and other behaviors. Family history makes high blood cholesterol harder to avoid. Family members often share similar LDL and HDL levels, and genes can cause people to absorb more cholesterol from the foods they eat.

Ultimately, high blood cholesterol levels raise the risk of developing heart disease, not foods with high cholesterol content. Other causes include a lack of exercise, diabetes, high blood pressure, genetics, and smoking, and a combination of these things can easily compound the problem.

This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose or treat any condition. If you have any concerns, please speak with your doctor.

Sinclair Broadcast Group is committed to the health and well-being of our viewers, which is why we initiated Sinclair Cares. Every month we’ll bring you information about the “Cause of the Month,” including topical information, education, awareness, and prevention. February is American Heart Month.


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