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What are good and bad cholesterol and how do they impact your health?

What are good and bad cholesterol and how do they impact your health?

What are good and bad cholesterol and how do they impact your health? 

Cholesterol is a type of fatty substance found in the human body. It is produced by the liver and is also obtained through the diet, mainly from food that contains animal fats. Cholesterol plays an important role in the production of hormones, cell membranes and vitamin D.

Some cholesterol can be for good health, but too much can lead to serious health problems.

Let’s see what HDL/LDL is to understand the impact of cholesterol on health. 

Good Cholesterol: HDL

High-density lipoprotein (HDL) is sometimes referred to as "good" or "healthy" cholesterol. It helps remove excess LDL from the bloodstream. The higher your HDL level, the better it is for your heart health. A healthy HDL level should be 60 mg/dL or higher for adults aged 20 or older. Anything below 40 mg/dL increases your heart disease and stroke risk.

Bad Cholesterol: LDL 

Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is often called "bad" or "unhealthy" cholesterol. It can cause plaque buildup in your arteries which leads to hardening of the arteries. This increases your risk of heart attack and stroke. And blocking blood flow to vital organs like the brain and heart.  LDL < 100 mg/dL; if risk factors are present, LDL < 70 mg/dL to reduce CVD risk.

What causes high cholesterol?

Eating fatty/cholesterol-rich foods increases LDL (bad) cholesterol. Lack of physical activity & regular smoking both raise LDL & total cholesterol. A family history raises the risk of developing it.  Smoking cigarettes or other tobacco products increases your risk of developing high cholesterol.  Genetic predisposition to high cholesterol runs in some families. 

What is a healthy cholesterol level for me?

A healthy cholesterol level for individuals is based on their age, gender, and risk factors.  Ideal LDL levels should be <100 mg/dL & HDL >40 mg/dL. Goals may vary based on age, gender, risk factors, etc. Discuss specific goals with the healthcare providers to reach them.

What are the good and bad effects of cholesterol on the human body?

The good effects of cholesterol are that it helps to maintain healthy cells and tissues. It helps to produce bile acids which help to digest food.

High cholesterol can cause heart disease and stroke. High levels of LDL cholesterol can cause a build-up of fat deposits on the walls of arteries. It can cause them to narrow or become blocked, leading to cardiovascular problems.

Impact of cholesterol on Cardiovascular Health. 

High cholesterol levels increase the risk of coronary artery disease (CAD). This condition occurs when plaque builds up on the walls of arteries that supply blood to your heart muscle. Its build up can cause arterial narrowing or blockage leading to chest pain or a heart attack. The higher the levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol, the greater your risk for CAD and hypertension. 

Elevated cholesterol levels also cause atherosclerosis. This is the hardening or clogging of your arteries due to fat deposits on your inner wall (plaque). Atherosclerosis increases one’s risk for stroke and peripheral artery disease (PAD. It affects circulation in arms and legs resulting in leg pain while walking known as claudication.  Atherosclerosis can be reversed with lifestyle changes that lower cholesterol

Treatment for cholesterol 

Regular exercise has been proven to reduce cholesterol levels and improve overall health. 

Exercise helps lower bad cholesterol (LDL) and increase good cholesterol (HDL). It reduces triglycerides, another type of fat found in the bloodstream. and increases your risk for heart disease if it reaches high levels. Regular exercise also helps strengthen bones, muscles, and joints. and boosts energy levels, improves mood, promotes weight loss and lowers stress.

It’s important to remember that diet plays an important role in controlling cholesterol levels too.  Eat a balanced diet of fruits & veggies, limit refined carbs & saturated fats to control LDL. Regular exercise & healthy eating habits will help you achieve this over time.

Medication may be necessary if lifestyle changes alone don't lower cholesterol. Statins and bile acid sequestrants are two main categories used. Statins reduce the production of LDL. And Bile acid binds bile acids made from LDL. Both classes decrease LDL levels when taken under medical supervision. 


Cholesterol plays an important role in our bodies, but having too much or too little puts us at greater risk.  High cholesterol can cause  serious medical conditions like atherosclerosis & CAD. It could lead to life-threatening events like heart attacks & strokes. So understanding their impacts, dieting well & exercising regularly is key to optimal well-being. Don’t forget about those annual checkups either.

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