The difference between “good” and “bad” cholesterol
Cholesterol typically has a bad reputation, but it actually plays an important role in helping your body function optimally. Your body uses cholesterol to produce hormones, vitamin D, and substances that help you digest food. Your body actually produces all of the cholesterol it needs for these functions, but cholesterol is can also be obtained from food. Eating foods that are high in saturated fat, such as butter, lard, and fatty meat, can increase cholesterol levels.
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that is found in all of the cells in the body. Cholesterol travels through the blood in particles called lipoproteins, which are protein on the outside and fat on the inside. There are two different types of lipoproteins: HDL (high-density lipoproteins) and LDL (low-density lipoproteins). Having proper levels of both is important for good health.
When we talk about high cholesterol, we are typically referring to LDL, which is often referred to “bad” cholesterol, because it transports cholesterol to the arteries, where it may collect in artery walls and cause a buildup of plaque, known as atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis can lead to heart disease and increase your risk of heart attack and stroke.
HDL cholesterol, however, is the “good” type of cholesterol. HDL carries cholesterol back to the liver, where it can be removed from the body. Your personalized genetic report can tell you if you have an increased risk of elevated LDL cholesterol or decreased HDL cholesterol.
High cholesterol in the U.S.
Nearly one-third of adults in the United States have high LDL cholesterol. People with high cholesterol have approximately double the risk of heart disease as people with normal levels. Because high cholesterol may not result in any signs or symptoms, many people have high cholesterol without even realizing.
Risk factors for high cholesterol
Some risk factors for high LDL cholesterol are genetic: age, ethnicity, lifestyle, and family history can all increase your risk of high cholesterol. While some of these factors can’t be controlled, adopting a healthy lifestyle and eating a healthy diet can help decrease LDL cholesterol and increase HDL cholesterol.
- Age: Risk of high cholesterol tends to increase with age.
- Gender: Levels of LDL cholesterol tend to rise more quickly in women than in men, but women tend to have lower levels until about the age of 55. At all ages, men tend to have lower levels of beneficial HDL cholesterol.
- Ethnicity: White females are most at risk of high cholesterol, while African American patients typically have the lowest risk (although their risk of heart disease is higher in general).
- Lifestyle: Poor diet, a sedentary lifestyle, and being overweight increase the risk of high cholesterol, as do other health conditions such as diabetes.
Lowering LDL cholesterol
The good news is, cholesterol levels are easy to control with diet and lifestyle changes. Eating a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, and staying physically active can all help reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, and avoid processed foods and trans fats, which may be present in baked goods, snack foods, and fried foods.
Periodic fasting may also help maintain cholesterol at healthy levels. A 2014 study found that fasting triggered a biological process in which LDL cholesterol was converted to energy in prediabetic patients. Prior studies found that continued routine fasting was also associated with a lower risk of diabetes and heart disease.
If you’re unsure about your ability to go without food, completely abstaining from food is not necessary to experience the benefits of prolonged fasting. Fasting mimicking diets use low-carbohydrate, plant-based foods to get the body into a fasting state while still providing necessary nutrients and healthy fats that provide a feeling of satiety. The ProLon fasting mimicking diet has been proven to help maintain healthy cholesterol levels when used for five days a month for three consecutive months. Learn more about ProLon and find out if it could be right for you.