What is Bad Cholesterol

Cardiologists warn us time and time again about the dangers of bad cholesterol. While we know that it can lead to heart disease, stroke and a variety of other health issues, many of us still aren’t sure what bad cholesterol actually is. To make matters worse, there’s a lot of misinformation out there that can confuse and potentially put patients at risk. Let’s clear things up and take a look at what bad cholesterol really is.

LDL is Bad Cholesterol

LDL is “bad cholesterol” because high levels can lead to plaque. These hard, thick deposits can clog arteries and cause them to lose their flexibility. This condition is called atherosclerosis, and it can lead to a heart attack or stroke if a blood clot forms and blocks the narrowed artery.

High levels of bad cholesterol can also lead to peripheral artery disease, which develops when plaque narrows the artery that supplies blood to the legs.

HDL is Good Cholesterol

HDL is “good cholesterol” because it actually helps remove LDL cholesterol from your arteries. Medical experts sometimes refer to HDL as a scavenger that seeks out LDL, and carries it out of the arteries and into the liver. Once it reaches the liver, it will be broken down and eliminated.

HDL carries 1/4 to 1/3 of blood cholesterol. Healthy levels of this cholesterol can help protect against heart attack and stroke, while lower levels can actually increase the risk of heart disease.

How to Lower LDL Cholesterol

If you have unhealthy levels of LDL cholesterol, you can take steps to correct the issue by making important lifestyle changes. And of course, those changes start with a healthy diet and adequate exercise.

Diets that help lower LDL cholesterol are typically low in saturated fat. Fiber and plant sterols can further help lower LDL levels. Sticking to this type of diet can lower your levels by as much as 30%.

Which foods can help lower your LDL levels? The Mayo Clinic suggests adding the following foods to your diet:

  • Oatmeal and other high-fiber foods: Oatmeal and other high fiber foods, like beans and legumes, reduce the absorption of cholesterol into the bloodstream.
  • Fatty fish: Fatty fish have high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which reduce blood pressure and your risk of developing blood clots. Salmon, herring and halibut are just a few of the many fish that have high levels of omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Nuts: Nuts are rich in polyunsaturated fats, which keep your blood vessels healthy. Eat a handful a day, but don’t overdo it as nuts are high in calories.

Aerobic exercise can also go a long way in reducing bad cholesterol while increasing good (HDL) cholesterol.

When diet and exercise aren’t enough, a doctor may prescribe medication to lower LDL levels. These medications include:

  • Niacin
  • Statins
  • Zetia
  • Fibrates
  • Bile acid sequestrants