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What is Cholesterol? | What You Need to Know

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Cholesterol can be confusing and hard to understand. For starters, there are different types of cholesterol. Then, there's also the fact that high cholesterol has no signs or symptoms. When you put all that together, we end up with more questions than answers. 

Understanding the different types of cholesterol can be helpful. Here's what you need to know about unhealthy cholesterol levels and how to keep them in check.

Good vs. bad

By now, you've heard there's "good cholesterol" and "bad cholesterol," but do you know what that means? Let's break them down:

  • LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol. Sometimes known as bad cholesterol, LDL cholesterol carries cholesterol to tissues, including the arteries. Most of the cholesterol in the blood is in the LDL form. The higher the LDL cholesterol level in the blood, the greater your risk for heart disease. When we have too much bad cholesterol, it can be detrimental to our health. 
  • HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol. On the other hand, good cholesterol picks up extra cholesterol in your blood and takes it back to the liver, where it is removed from the body. A low level of HDL cholesterol increases your risk for heart disease.

 

In conclusion, too much LDL (bad) cholesterol in the blood can become trapped in artery walls. Over time, this builds up, much in the same way that food causes plaque to build up on your teeth. Cholesterol plaque can block arteries, obstruct blood flow, contribute to high blood pressure, and damage your heart and kidney. 

A little TLC goes a long way (but not the tender-loving-care type)

You may need some TLC in your life if you have unhealthy cholesterol levels. Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes, or TLC, is a long-term lifestyle change rather than a fad diet. It combines diet and exercise to decrease blood levels of total and LDL (bad) cholesterol. 

The TLC diet calls for foods low in saturated fat, trans fat, and dietary cholesterol, including dairy products, red meats, baked goods, and fried foods. Saturated fats like cakes, butter, cheese, processed foods, and meat raise your insufficient cholesterol level more than anything else in your diet. That is why you should limit calories from saturated fats to 6% of the total calories you eat and drink each day. 

In addition to a diet low in saturated and trans fat, TLC guidelines recommend 30 minutes per day of walking, running, cycling, or swimming.

You are what you eat, but…

A balanced diet is essential for good health, but staying active is as important. Research shows that regular exercise helps you live longer and lower your risk of certain chronic conditions. It also improves your mood and mental health. And if you're thinking about doing yoga to combat high cholesterol, some early evidence points to incredible benefits.

In a small study, people with type 2 diabetes who did yoga for three months while also taking medication to lower sugar levels showed a decrease in total cholesterol, triglycerides, and LDL (bad) cholesterol. They also showed improvement in HDL (good) cholesterol. In another study, those who practiced yoga at least three times a week for 26 weeks saw a reduction in LDL levels. In this study, their HDL levels weren't affected. 

Experts agree that more research is needed to conclude that yoga lowers cholesterol. Still, moving is better than not moving at all. Plus, yoga benefits the body and mind in ways that help reduce stress and cope with insomnia. 

The bottom line: Eat well, move toward better health, and have your cholesterol checked. Everyone, children included, should keep their cholesterol under control based on their age. If you're 20 or older, experts recommend checking your cholesterol every five years. 

 Make an appointment with your primary care physician at Baylor St. Luke's Medical Group for a cholesterol test. It's a simple blood test and can help you be on your way to a healthier you.

Sources:

Benefits of Yoga | American Osteopathic Association

Effects of a yoga intervention on lipid profiles of diabetes patients with dyslipidemia - ScienceDirect

Exploring the therapeutic effects of yoga and its ability to increase the quality of life Woodyard C - Int J Yoga (ijoy.org.in)

High Cholesterol Facts | cdc.gov

A Little TLC Goes a Long Way toward Reducing High Cholesterol | National Institutes of Health (NIH)

Saturated Fat | American Heart Association

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