Is cholesterol good or bad for you? Both!

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

Cholesterol…

It’s in your food and on the news. It’s in your body and monitored by your doctor. But what is cholesterol? Put simply, cholesterol is a type of fat found in your blood that plays a big role in helping your body communicate and build parts of its cells.

There are two types of cholesterol to keep in mind: high-density lipoproteins (HDL) and low-density lipoproteins (LDL). What the heck is a lipoprotein? It’s something that helps move fat through the water in your body. Now, what’s interesting is that HDL cholesterol is actually good for you and LDL cholesterol is bad for you.

I know what you’re thinking.

Coronary_heart_disease-atherosclerosisWhat makes LDL cholesterol such a bad guy? At low levels, LDL cholesterol is actually okay. It’s the high levels that make it bad. One reason is that LDL cholesterol is a ‘sticky’ fat. This sticky feature means that it’s easy for LDL cholesterol to stick to the wall of your blood vessels and to stick to each other. This doesn’t sound so bad right? It can actually be very bad! If you have a lot of LDL cholesterol in your blood, it will just keep sticking together until your blood vessels get clogged up like a sink! This can lead to serious heart problems.

Hmm… if high levels of LDL cholesterol is bad, what makes HDL cholesterol good? I’m glad you asked! While LDL cholesterol is ‘sticky’, HDL cholesterol is ‘slippery’. This slippery feature helps unstick some of the bad cholesterol from the blood vessels, almost like rinsing your veins clean. Open and clean blood vessels mean the heart doesn’t have to work as hard at pumping the blood in your body.

Staying away from fatty food such as pastries, fried foods, and snack foods will help keep LDL cholesterol low, which is what you want. Good exercise and healthy foods such as fruits, fish, nuts, and vegetables, can help keep up your levels of HDL cholesterol. Maintaining a good balance of LDL and HDL cholesterol will keep your heart healthy and your brain working at its best.

Featured image courtesy of Theoretical and Computational Biophysics Group/ Beckman Institute/ University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign.