WHAT TYPES OF CHOLESTEROL ARE THERE?
THERE ARE TWO:
HDL : high density lipoprotein
LDL : low density lipoprotein
Cholesterol is found in the membrane of every cell in the body. It is a waxy molecule made of fat (lipid) and is crucial for building and maintaining cell membranes, metabolizing fat-soluble vitamins (vitamins A, E, D & K), producing bile to help digest fat, and the production of many hormones. In short and contrary to what we were led to believe (our conventional wisdom) cholesterol is VITAL to our health & well-being!
The liver manufactures plenty of cholesterol for healthy bodily functions. The production level will vary and is dependent on dietary intake, which has changed for many of us Americans given industrialization and modernization. If we DO NOT ingest healthy fats (avocado, first pressed olive & avocado oil, nuts, cold water fish etc) our body will simply produce cholesterol on its own. Thats just how important cholesterol is.
Cholesterol is oil-based and our blood is water-based. In order to travel through the bloodstream more efficiently, cholesterol and other fats combine with other particles called lipoproteins. Lipoproteins are comprised of cholesterol, triglycerides (fat), phospholipid (another type of fat) and protein.
So the “cholesterol” we commonly refer to as HDL and LDL are actually lipoproteins. Cholesterol is simply a component of these particles!
There are several types of Lipoproteins, all with different transporting functions that make up the total amount of cholesterol in the body. However there are three (3) that are the most important regarding Heart Disease:
HDL : High Density Lipoprotein (its important for this number to be high)
VLDL: Very Low Density Lipoprotein (the one your doctor should be aware of AND track most)
LDL: Low Density Lipoprotein
*Each of these lipoproteins contains a different % of cholesterol, triglycerides and other fats
HDL’s: takes oxidized cholesterol from the blood stream to the liver for excretion or to be recycled. About 30% of the total cholesterol in a healthy body is comprised of HDL. HDL is known as the “Good Cholesterol”. They are also referred to as “Nature’s Garbage Trucks” for their ability to cleanse the arteries of the blood stream of oxidized cholesterol. HIGH levels of HDL help reduce the risk of heart disease!
VLDL’s: Produced in the liver to transport triglycerides and cholesterol to target fat/muscle cells (for energy or fat storage, dependent on lifestyle and dietary intake). Initially, VLDL’s contain roughly 80% triglyceride. After they deliver their “cargo” to the target cells to be used as fuel, they shrink substantially in size (since they contained mostly cholesterol and minimal triglycerides). They then transform into either Large Fluffy LDL (good) or Small & Dense LDL (these are VERY BAD) and the reason for strokes & heart attacks
Large & Fluffy LDL is transformed from VLDL, when blood levels of triglycerides and insulin are low (minimal processed food, grains, sugar). These are harmless, even at high concentration (a condition that is often associated with genetics).
However in the presence of risk-factors like a high insulin producing diet , systemic inflammation, smoking etc. even large & fluffy LDL can make a contribution to heart disease “IF” the particle count is high enough and its not cleared from the blood quickly.
*Small dense LDL is formed from VLDL when triglycerides and insulin levels are elevated in the bloodstream due to a diet consisting of high starchy carbs, grain, processed food, sugars & alcohol
*They can become lodged onto the endothelial cell layer (ECL) ECL are the cells that line the walls of your arteries
*Since oxygen is constantly flowing through arteries, the small & dense LDL that end up LODGED in the ECL sustain oxidative damage which build up, eventually causing plaque buildup which leads to heart attacks & strokes (I’ll explain in further detail in PART 2 about foam cells, their purpose and the buildup of plaque in your arteries).
When you understand the differences between LDL particles(small dense vs large fluffy), you realize how misleading a total LDL cholesterol level can be when you are evaluating risk for heart disease.
For example, a total LDL reading of 100 could be comprised mainly of small & dense LDL, and fewer large & fluffy LDL . While this reading of 100 LDL is considered a “healthy level”, it is very misleading AND its very unfortunate that most doctors today are unaware of the diffrence
This is why heart attacks occur in individuals who have a seemingly healthy & low LDL reading. Their LDL is comprised of the small & dense LDL due to unfavorable diet & lifestyle habits, which attribute to plaque buildup on the arterial walls.
How cholesterol got a bad rap & how a heart attack occurs in detail!
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In good health,
Primal Health Coach