Before acknowledging the bad stuff that cholesterol does to the body, it’s important to learn more about what cholesterol actually is and how it helps to keep you healthy.
All About Cholesterol
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance called a “lipid” that can be found in the bloodstream. Most of the cholesterol in our body is produced by the liver and the intestines, but we can also find cholesterol in the food that we eat. Cholesterol is measured through a blood test called a lipid panel or profile, but it also circulates in all the cells of the body.
Cholesterol plays many functions in the body. A type of white blood cell uses cholesterol to keep its membrane intact. The production of sex hormones like progesterone and testosterone make use of cholesterol. Cholesterol also assists the body in producing Vitamin D.
However, cholesterol can’t travel in the bloodstream as it is. Since it’s a fat, it won’t properly dissolve and travel throughout the bloodstream. This is where lipoproteins come into the picture. Lipoproteins are the body’s method to ensure that cholesterol can make its way to the parts of the body that need it.
Simply put, a lipoprotein is cholesterol in the form of protein-covered particles. This makes it easier for cholesterol to flow in the bloodstream. These lipoproteins come in many forms specifically made to perform different tasks. Lipoproteins also include what’s commonly referred to as “good” and “bad” cholesterol.
Good vs. Bad Cholesterol
The types of lipoproteins make up what’s known as good and bad cholesterol. These have three main types, namely:
- High Density Lipoprotein (HDL): HDL plays the key function of carrying excess cholesterol from other organs in the body, back to the liver where it’s expelled from the body as a substance called bile. This is why High Density Lipoproteins are usually regarded as the “good” type of cholesterol.
- Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL): LDL particles play the role of delivering cholesterol to the different tissues in the body. LDL also carries a higher concentration of cholesterol, which is why it’s usually referred to as “bad” cholesterol.
A high LDL cholesterol range becomes harmful for the body because it leads to build-up in the arteries.
- Very Low Density Lipoprotein (VLDL): VLDL carries particles known as “triglycerides” to the tissue. Triglycerides come from excess calories that come with the food we eat. Very Low Density Lipoprotein can also promote build-up in the arteries which is why it’s also seen as a “bad” type of cholesterol.
One thing to take note of is that cholesterol and triglycerides differ from one another. Both cholesterol and triglycerides are fat that the body packaged into lipoproteins. However, the key difference between triglycerides vs. LDL, HDL, or VLDL lies in their functions.