Dispelling cholesterol myths
September 27, 2016
By Jessica Smith, brought to you by Kaiser Permanente.
Exploring the difference between HDL and LDL, and how to maintain healthy levels
Four to five years ago cholesterol was thought of as a mostly dirty word, with connotations of fat, obesity and disease. But now, thanks to new findings and research, the role of this fatty substance is better understood. Dr. Patricia Dietzgen of Kaiser Permanente’s Frisco Medical Office says that cholesterol research has come a long way in the past decade. Thanks to new findings, cholesterol is becoming better understood. Often the biggest misconception is that people focus on the number, and the total numbers are no longer the primary focus.
"We now look at cholesterol as part of an overall picture of a patient's health, including their past medical history, their lifestyle and family history in order to see a more holistic picture," explained Dietzgen. "Now, as our understanding of cholesterol has changed, we realize that we have to stand back and look at the whole person in order to determine what their cardiac risk factors are."
Good and bad cholesterol
Not all cholesterol is bad. LDL (low density lipoproteins) and HDL (high density lipoproteins) are the two types of cholesterol. HDL – now dubbed "the good cholesterol" — should be kept as high as possible, while LDL should be held to a minimum.
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"In fact, we need a certain amount of cholesterol to maintain our health," said Dietzgen.
People that have high HDL have fewer strokes and heart attacks. While it is still not entirely understood why this happens, the relationship is evident.
The best way that a person can raise their HDL numbers is by routinely adopting a few healthy practices. Weight loss, increasing aerobic and weight training exercises and healthy eating habits all help to keep cholesterol levels where they should be.
More info on LDL
"We used to focus primarily on the LDL cholesterol — the low-density cholesterol, what we consider to be the 'bad cholesterol,'" said Dietzgen. "All of our medical advice was geared towards lowering these numbers. Nowadays, we are learning that it is more important to look at good cholesterol levels, the HDL, to help determine your cardiac risks."
By adopting healthy lifestyle habits, one can dramatically reduce the chances of developing cardiac disease and diabetes.
Even with more attention given to HDL, it is important not to lose sight of how cholesterol works overall. The reason doctors focus on cholesterol levels is because LDL cholesterol can create plaque buildup in the arteries. These plaques can break off the arterial walls, which can cause a stroke or heart attack.
Achieving a cholesterol-friendly diet doesn't mean you have to eat tiny portions or only eating fat-free foods. It means you need to find the healthy fats in foods.
These include monounsaturated fats such as olive oil and avocados. Limit red meats and highly processed carbohydrates such as pre-prepared foods and snacks. Eat foods rich in omega 3 fatty acids such as salmon, walnuts, almonds and ground flax seed, and fish oil capsules.
Take time to read labels and avoid processed foods as much as possible. In addition, increase fresh foods, vegetables and fiber, and decrease fried foods and trans fatty acids such as margarine.
Exercise is key
"Exercise is just as important as diet in reducing your risks of cardiovascular disease and raising your good cholesterol," said Dietzgen. "Increasing moderate physical activity by even 30 minutes a day can make a very big difference. In addition, losing 5-10 percent of your body weight can significantly lower LDL levels and raise HDL levels.
"If you love your body, it will love you back."