Anyone can have high cholesterol. The old and the young can have it and both obese and skinny people can have it. Cholesterol can be beneficial as it helps to form the membranes in cells and is important for growth in babies; however, it can also cause serious health problems.
Cholesterol is a lipid, which means that it is not water-soluble and belongs to the same family of substances as oils and fats. In order to circulate through the body, cholesterol must attach itself to fatty proteins since it cannot dissolve in a watery substance like blood. In other words, the two different types of cholesterol discussed below are really two different types of proteins that carry cholesterol molecules. The combination of cholesterol and protein is called a lipoprotein. Lipoproteins consist of cholesterol that is coated with proteins. Here is a look at the different types of cholesterol:
The term “bad cholesterol” is commonly used in reference to low-density lipoprotein (LDL). This type of cholesterol contributes to plaque that can clog and harden arteries. With LDL, the combination of cholesterol and protein includes more cholesterol than protein. The result is that the LDL does not move efficiently through the bloodstream and tends to bump into artery walls, leaving plaque and platelets behind.
A person who has clogged and hardened arteries as a result of high LDL is said to have a condition called atherosclerosis. When a person has atherosclerosis, clots can form and block their narrowed arteries resulting in a heart attack or stroke. The accumulation of plaque in the arteries can also result in peripheral artery disease, which causes restricted blood flow to their arms and legs.
This type of cholesterol helps with the removal of LDL from the arteries and is therefore considered good cholesterol. This combination of proteins and cholesterol has more protein than cholesterol, which allows it to move more efficiently through the bloodstream and to the liver. Researchers believe that good cholesterol also helps to take the LDL from the arteries to the liver where it is processed and passed out of the body as waste. HDL can carry away as much as a third of the body’s bad cholesterol. It is therefore helpful for protecting the body from strokes and heart attacks.
The health issues that result from high cholesterol are the result of there being more bad cholesterol in the body than good cholesterol. If there is too much bad cholesterol, the good cholesterol will not be able to remove all of it. This imbalance is often due to a combination of genetics and diet.