Ryan Hall MS, CSCS, Wellness Coordinator
Something that comes up a lot during Health Screenings and Health Coaching are questions around: “What is Cholesterol?”
Cholesterol is in the fats in your blood. Two types of cholesterol exist: LDL, which is also known as low-density lipoprotein and HDL, which is also known as high-density lipoprotein. LDL is known as the “bad” cholesterol, because it causes a buildup of plaque in the arteries. HDL is known as the “good” cholesterol because it helps the body get rid of excess fat in the blood by carrying it away from the organs to the liver, so that it can be removed.
Ok, that’s all fine and dandy, but why do we need to be so mean to the poor lipoproteins and start calling them names! Look here, LDL cholesterol isn’t necessarily bad. Wait! What did he just say! Yeah, you heard me, it’s not all bad. LDL cholesterol plays an important function in the body, if not, it wouldn’t be there and our bodies sure wouldn’t be producing it naturally. So, what does it do then?
LDL Cholesterol is produced in the liver as a transport mechanism for fat to be taken to the organs that utilize fat as an energy source. FYI, the brain can only use fat as an energy source. So these lipoproteins serve a pretty important purpose, get energy to your brain so you don’t die! The problem with LDL is it has a tendency to drop fat particles as it travels to the organs. This is where HDL comes in. HDL transports excess fats in the blood stream back to the liver to be reprocessed. Let’s make an analogy out of this cause well, that’s how I understand stuff best.
LDL is a worker carrying a load of wood pellets down a hallway to a stove (ie, your brain) to get it working. He has so many pellets in his hands that he has a tendency to drop some along the way. Well along comes HDL, the cleaning crew, and he picks up the dropped pellets out of the hallway and takes them back to the recycling center (your liver) to get them ready to be picked up again. This works out great in a 1:1 ratio, LDL : HDL. Now let’s say that we have hundreds of workers carrying pellets to the stove, each dropping some along the way and only a handful of cleaning crew members trying to pick it all up. Ugh oh, anyone else see the problem? Sooner or later the small cleaning crew just can’t keep up and the hallway gets clogged up. Can anyone say clogged arteries? This is why we like to see low LDL numbers and high HDL numbers. Now this is a very simplified version of what LDL and HDL do for the body. As we all know, the body doesn’t like to be simple in any way, shape or form. Just know that the best way to make changes is to know what your numbers are. So get your screenings done so you know where to start.