Cholesterol is defined as a waxy substance that is found in each and every cell in the body.
LDL and HDL are the carriers of cholesterol while triglycerides are described as the “left-overs” of excessive carbohydrates and sugars that we consume.
Let’s define cholesterol and explain what HDL, LDL and triglycerides are.
- What Is Cholesterol?
- What Is LDL Cholesterol?
- What Is HDL Cholesterol?
- What Are Triglycerides?
- Think You Have High Cholesterol?
What Is Cholesterol?
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a waxy compound that is found in the blood and makes up part of the membrane of each and every cell in the body.
Cholesterol is also known as a lipid, a type of sterol or a fat. We are all born with cholesterol in our bodies, and it carries out a number of roles that we need for healthy function.
Where does cholesterol come from?
Cholesterol is produced in our livers. Our bodies produce as much cholesterol as we need for healthy function. We also get cholesterol from the foods we eat on a regular basis.
Some of the functions of cholesterol include:
Cholesterol plays a role in the production of important female and male hormones such as testosterone, estrogen, progesterone and most notably cortisol, our stress hormone.
Cholesterol plays a role in forming and maintaining cell membranes.
Cholesterol plays a role in the production of bile. The liver requires a certain amount of cholesterol to produce bile which is used in processing and digesting fat.
Cholesterol is used to insulate nerve cells.
Cholesterol helps to produce healthy amounts of vitamin D in the blood. In the presence of sunlight, a portion of cholesterol is transformed into vitamin D.
What are the symptoms of high cholesterol?
There are no symptoms of high cholesterol per se. You will not develop symptoms of high cholesterol until you are experiencing the consequences of a prolonged period of high cholesterol.
Some of the consequences of on-going high cholesterol may include:
Heart disease (symptoms include angina, aka chest pain.)
Stroke (dizziness, slurred speech, pain or numbness in the legs.)
Atherosclerosis (shortness of breath, muscle weakness, pains in the legs, fatigue and/or confusion.)
As there are no symptoms of high cholesterol, it’s important to do routine testing from 20 years of age every 4-6 years.
What Is LDL Cholesterol?
What Is LDL?
LDL cholesterol, aka low-density lipoprotein is known as “bad cholesterol”. LDL cholesterol is responsible for transporting cholesterol throughout the body.
An elevated level of LDL in the blood is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke and high blood pressure.
LDL & your risk of heart disease
It is widely accepted that an elevated level of LDL cholesterol increases your risk of heart disease, however, it’s important to know that the size of the LDL particle has a significant impact on your overall risk of heart disease.
LDL cholesterol exists in two sizes. One type of LDL is large and fluffy in size, while the other is small and dense.
According to a number of research studies, small dense LDL particles are more dangerous when it comes to your risk of cardiovascular events, whereas large fluffy LDL may actually have a protective effect.
It has been hypothesized that the smaller particle-sized LDL is more dangerous due to the fact that it can take up more space. This theory is connected to triglycerides which we will talk about in awhile.
In a number of studies, it has been shown that high triglycerides are associated with a higher volume of smaller-sized LDL particles, whereas low triglycerides are associated with a lower number of larger-sized LDL particles.
Where does LDL cholesterol come from?
LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) is produced by the liver. LDL or bad cholesterol also comes from certain foods, particularly from foods that contain trans and saturated fats.
Trans fats are commonly contained in processed foods.
Saturated fats are commonly found in full fat dairy products, red meat, certain oils and traditional butter.
Some of the functions of LDL cholesterol include:
LDL is responsible for the transportation and delivery of cholesterol to cells in the body.
LDL makes up part of the cell membrane.
LDL is used in the production and synthesis of steroid hormones such as progesterone, estrogen, testosterone, cortisol and triiodothyronine (T3).
What are the symptoms of high LDL cholesterol?
There are no symptoms of high LDL cholesterol.
Like total cholesterol, if you do experience any symptoms of high LDL cholesterol, it will be because a prolonged period of LDL cholesterol has led to associated conditions such as cardiovascular disease, stroke and high blood pressure.
High LDL levels in the blood may contribute to fatty build-ups in the arteries, in turn leading to a condition called atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is described as a fatty buildup of plaque and therefore a narrowing of the arteries.
What Is HDL Cholesterol?
What Is HDL?
HDL cholesterol aka high-density lipoprotein is known as “good cholesterol”. Like LDL, HDL isn’t necessarily a type of cholesterol, it is a combination of a protein and a lipid that has the purpose of carrying excess cholesterol to the liver for filtration and removal from the body.
A healthy level of HDL in the blood is associated with a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke and high blood pressure.
HDL & your risk of heart disease
Historically, elevated levels of HDL (good cholesterol) have been associated with an increased protective effect from cardiovascular issues. More recent study has shown too much of a good thing isn't always great, elevated HDL in the blood is actually associated with an increased risk of heart attack.
While elevated levels of HDL may not be as worrisome as high levels of LDL in the blood, it’s worth keeping an eye on your HDL levels just as much as you would, your LDL levels or “bad cholesterol.”
Where does HDL cholesterol come from?
HDL cholesterol is produced by the liver and small intestine. HDL or good cholesterol also comes from certain foods that we consume.
Foods that are rich in HDL include:
- Olive oil
- Oily fish
Some of the functions of HDL cholesterol include:
- HDL cholesterol absorbs excess lipids and transports it to the liver to be broken down and expelled from the body.
What are the symptoms of high HDL (good cholesterol)?
There are no symptoms of high HDL cholesterol.
Like total cholesterol, if you do experience any symptoms of high HDL cholesterol, it will be because a prolonged period of high total cholesterol has led to associated conditions such as cardiovascular disease, stroke and high blood pressure.
As mentioned, two much of a good thing may have a negative impact on your health. Too much HDL cholesterol is no different, which is why it is so important to regularly check your cholesterol levels.
What Are Triglycerides?
What are triglycerides?
Triglycerides are a type of fat that is found in the blood. Triglycerides are also known as fat, fat cells, lipids and lipoid.
Each time you eat, your body processes food to energize different parts of the body. When you eat more calories than you burn, these calories are processed as triglycerides, stored as fat cells and generally lead to weight gain.
High triglycerides are most commonly caused by excessive carbohydrate and glucose consumption, triglycerides are also produced in the liver.
Triglycerides & your risk of heart disease
Triglycerides may increase your risk of heart disease by contributing to the hardening and thickening of the artery walls.
Significantly high triglycerides may also lead to inflammation in the body, most notably the pancreas, this causes a condition called pancreatitis.
Where do triglycerides come from?
Triglycerides are produced in the liver. Food is also a significant source of triglycerides. The more calories you eat, the more triglycerides your liver produces.
If you eat more calories than your burn, you are at an increased risk of living with high triglycerides. (hypertriglyceridemia).
Some of the functions of triglycerides include:
Triglycerides play a role in the formation and synthesis of certain hormones.
Triglycerides store unused calories that provide the body with the energy it needs it.
Think You Have High Cholesterol?
There are a number of reasons that you may think that you have high cholesterol. Maybe you have a family history, a sedentary lifestyle or a diet that needs a touch up.
Whatever reason you might suspect for having high cholesterol, it’s good to know that it’s easier than ever to check your cholesterol levels.
Now, you have the ability to check your cholesterol from home. Order today and receive your results with additional one to one medical advice in a matter of days.
Written by Hannah Kingston | Medically Reviewed by Dr. Susan O' Sullivan