Health and Medicine

Health Hazards and Risks

What is “good” and “bad” cholesterol?

Chemically a lipid, cholesterol is an important constituent of body cells. This fatty substance, produced mostly in the liver, is involved in bile salt and hormone formation, and in the transport of fats in the bloodstream to the tissues throughout the body. Both cholesterol and fats are transported as lipoproteins (units having a core of cholesterol and fats in varying proportions with an outer wrapping of carrier protein [phospholoids and apoproteins]). An overabundance of cholesterol in the bloodstream can be an inherited trait, can be triggered by dietary intake, or can be the result of a metabolic disease, such as diabetes mellitus. Fats (from meat, oil, and dairy products) strongly affect the cholesterol level. High cholesterol levels in the blood may lead to a narrowing of the inner lining of the coronary arteries from the buildup of a fatty tissue called atheroma. This increases the risk of coronary heart disease or stroke. However, if most cholesterol in the blood is in the form of high density lipoproteins (HDL), then it seems to protect against arterial disease. HDL picks up cholesterol in the arteries and brings it back to the liver for excretion or reprocessing. HDL is referred to as “good cholesterol.” Conversely, if most cholesterol is in the form of low-density lipoproteins (LDL), or very-low-density lipoproteins (VLDL), then arteries can become clogged. “Bad cholesterol” is the term used to refer to LDL and VLDL.


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