Cholesterol can’t dissolve in the blood. It has to be transported to and from the cells by carriers called lipoproteins. Low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, is known as “bad” cholesterol. High-density lipoprotein, or HDL, is known as “good” cholesterol. These two types of lipids, along with triglycerides and Lp(a) cholesterol, make up your total cholesterol count, which can be determined through a blood test.
What Is LDL Cholesterol?
Cholesterol isn’t all bad. It’s an essential fat that provides support in the membranes of our bodies’ cells. Some cholesterol comes from diet and some is made by the liver. Cholesterol can’t dissolve in blood, so transport proteins carry it where it needs to go. These carriers are called lipoproteins, and LDL (low-density lipoprotein) is one member of the lipoprotein family.
Acting like a microscopic bus fleet, lipoproteins pick up and carry loads of cholesterol through the blood. Each form of lipoprotein has different preferences for cholesterol, and behaves differently with the cholesterol it carries.
An LDL particle is a microscopic blob consisting of an outer rim of lipoprotein surrounding a cholesterol center. LDL is called low-density lipoprotein because LDL particles tend to be less dense than other kinds of cholesterol particles.
What Makes LDL Cholesterol Bad
LDL cholesterol can’t help being bad — it’s just its chemical makeup. LDL cholesterol is an important part of the process of narrowing arteries, called atherosclerosis.
- Some LDL cholesterol circulating through the bloodstream tends to deposit in the walls of arteries. This process starts as early as childhood or adolescence.
- White blood cells swallow and try to digest the LDL, possibly in an attempt to protect the blood vessels.
- In the process, the white blood cells convert the LDL to a toxic (oxidized) form.
- More white blood cells and other cells migrate to the area, creating steady low-grade inflammation in the artery wall.
- Over time, more LDL cholesterol and cells collect in the area. The ongoing process creates a bump in the artery wall called a plaque. The plaque is made of cholesterol, cells, and debris.
- The process tends to continue, growing the plaque and slowly blocking the artery.
An even greater danger than slow blockage is a sudden rupture of the surface of the plaque. A blood clot can form on the ruptured area, causing a heart attack.
LDL Cholesterol Levels
LDL cholesterol can build up on the walls of your arteries and increase your chances of getting heart disease. That is why LDL cholesterol is referred to as “bad” cholesterol. The lower your LDL cholesterol number, the lower your risk. The table below explains what the numbers mean.
|LDL Cholesterol||LDL-Cholesterol Category|
|Less than 100||Optimal|
|100 – 129||Near optimal/above optimal|
|130 – 159||Borderline high|
|160 – 189||High|
|190 and above||Very high|
If you have heart disease or blood vessel disease, some experts recommend that you should try to get your LDL cholesterol below 70. For people with diabetes or other multiple risk factors for heart disease, the treatment goal is to reach an LDL of less than 100, although some physicians will be more aggressive.
To read more about High Cholesterol (Hypercholesterolemia), click here.
Lower LDL (Bad) Cholesterol
Without a doubt, lowering LDL cholesterol is a huge benefit in bringing total cholesterol down to a safe level. There have been numerous studies conducted where data indicated the chance of having a heart attack is actually decreased by as much as 25% for every 10% drop in cholesterol level.
The top four benefits of lowering LDL include:
- Decreases the chance of heart attack and/or stroke
- Reduces the formation of new cholesterol plaques
- Eliminates existing plaques
- Prevents the rupture of existing plaques
A particular study conducted in 1994 called Scandinavian Simvastatin Survival Study, or 4S, confirmed that lowering LDL not only reduced risk for heart attacks, but death. In this study, more than 4,000 people with confirmed heart disease were given either a cholesterol-lowering drug or a placebo. The drug of choice for this study was Statin. The results showed that for the people taking the Statin, the total cholesterol levels were reduced 25%, LDL was lowered 35%, and death occurring from heart disease was reduced by a staggering 42%.
Keep your daily calorie intake of fat to less than 30%. If you consume too many calories from any kind of food, whether it is carbohydrates, proteins, or fats, your body will take that food and turn it into triglycerides that are then circulated into your bloodstream to be stored as fat.
Simply put the more LDL in your blood stream, the higher risk you have of heart disease. If you currently have heart disease, lowering your level of LDL will have a great impact on your health. No matter what your overall health, if you have high LDL levels, speak with your physician to determine the best course of action in bringing your numbers down.
The important factor is to understand your risk factors by identifying your cholesterol levels and how it may affect your overall health and possible risk of a heart attack. It is extremely important to work with your doctor in creating a regimen that encompasses traditional of natural treatments. Research has shown that for every 1% reduction in cholesterol levels, there is a 2% reduction in the rate of heart disease. This should be a strong incentive in controlling your cholesterol levels.
From hundreds of studies and research, we know that following are major approaches available to lower LDL cholesterol while increasing HDL to reduce the risk of heart disease.
9 Ways to Lower LDL and Raise HDL
Your doctor tells you that your level of LDL—the “bad” type of cholesterol—is too high, and, in a double whammy, he says that your level of HDL—the “good” cholesterol—is too low. So, you wonder, is there anything you can do to decrease the bad while increasing the good?
There are steps you can take to accomplish this. It’s much easier to push LDL down than to push HDL up, but it’s well worth the effort to strive to do both. A November study published in the Postgraduate Medical Journal found that increasing HDL levels in patients who are also aggressively lowering their LDL levels can reduce cardiovascular risk. An HDL level of 60 milligrams per deciliter or higher is believed to help protect against heart disease. Women’s risk for heart disease rises significantly at HDL levels below 47 mg/dl; men are at particular risk if their HDL level falls below 37 mg/dl.
For LDL, a reading of 190 mg/dl or higher is considered to be very high, 160 to 189 is considered to be high, and 130 to 159 is considered to be borderline high. A level of 100 to 129 is considered to be near optimal; less than 100 is considered optimal for most people. But for those who are at very high risk for heart disease or have a history of heart trouble, a reading of less than 70 is preferred.
Depending on your cholesterol levels, successfully reaching your target levels will probably take a combination of medication and lifestyle and dietary changes. Among the changes you’ll have to make: Stop smoking, exercise, lose weight, and eat well, the PMJ study suggests.
Here are 9 ways to lower your LDL and raise your HDL:
- Taking a statin can lower LDL by 10 percent (at the lowest dose) to 55 percent (at the highest dose), says Robert H. Eckel, professor of medicine at the University of Colorado-Denver and past president of the American Heart Association. A small percentage of people who take statins experience severe myopathy, which is muscle discomfort or weakness. Statins also bump up HDL, typically by 5 to 10 percent (that’s only 2 to 4 mg/dl, not enough to make much of a difference). Other types of cholesterol-lowering medications are sometimes prescribed in combination with statins.
- A cholesterol absorption inhibitor would be a likely next step for those who can’t take statins because of side effects, Eckel says. There is only one such drug—ezetimibe (Zetia). A 2003 study in the journal Pharmacotherapy found that when given alone or in combination with other cholesterol-lowering medications, ezetimibe reduced LDL by 15 to 20 percent and raised HDL, but, as with a statin, not by much—2.5 to 5 percent.
- Bile acid sequestrants can decrease LDL by about 10 to 20 percent, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. When combined with a statin, these medications can lower LDL by more than 40 percent. These drugs offer an added benefit for diabetics: Recent research has shown they help to lower blood glucose levels.
- Nicotinic acid, also known as niacin, is a water-soluble B vitamin that lowers LDL by 10 to 20 percent and is the only drug that can have a real impact on HDL, says Eckel. According to the NHLBI, it can lift HDL levels by 15 to 35 percent. A study published this month in Current Medical Research and Opinion says that niacin and fibrates (explained below) are underutilized—either alone or in combination with statins—to treat low HDL and high triglycerides (a kind of fat in the blood). Because most people who take niacin experience flushing of the skin and a warm feeling, particularly on the face, neck, and ears, up to half of those taking the medication choose to stop it, according to the Mayo Clinic.
- Fibrates are mostly effective at lowering triglycerides and in heightening HDL levels, according to NHLBI. These drugs usually lower LDL by 10 to 20 percent, Eckel says. For those who take this type of medication, HDL increases are usually in the neighborhood of a modest 10 to 15 percent.
- Lose weight. This can lower LDL, though levels will go back up unless you make lasting dietary changes, Eckel says. Keep in mind that while you’re losing weight, your HDL levels may fall, Eckel warns. But as you maintain your new body weight, your HDL will increase as long as you’ve lost at least 10 percent of your body weight.Exercise itself can raise HDL, although usually not by a meaningful amount. “For sedentary people with low HDL cholesterol and heart disease, even a little bit of exercise can raise it—but not by a lot,” Eckel says. “For the average Susan or Joe, moderate exercising activity needs to be accompanied by a change in body composition—less fat—to increase HDL.” There are a few caveats: Women who have abnormal menstrual periods have minimal increases in HDL, and too much resistance training may actually lower HDL cholesterol if not accompanied by some training.
- Limit saturated fats. Eating saturated fats—which are the main diet-linked cause of high cholesterol—tends to raise your HDL, but it also increases your LDL. These fats are mostly found in animal foods such as beef, lamb, poultry, pork, butter, cream, and milk, and in coconut and coconut oil, palm and palm kernel oil, and cocoa butter. “We think the bad cholesterol is more of a concern than the good cholesterol,” says Eckel, so it’s important to limit consumption of saturated fats. The American Heart Association recommends limiting saturated fat intake to less than 7 percent of your total daily calories. “A reduction in saturated fats by a moderate amount will reduce LDL,” Eckel says.
- Avoid trans fats, which have been purged from many prepared foods but are found in small quantities in some animal products. They also are formed during the hydrogenation process of making margarine, shortening, and cooking oils. Trans fats can increase LDL and decrease HDL. Vegetable oils that are partially hydrogenated are the source of about 75 percent of trans fatty acids in the American diet, according to the AHA. It’s easier now to find foods that contain little to no trans fats, as more attention is paid to how trans fats affect people’s health. Many restaurants are making an effort, and New York City and California have banned trans fats.As a rule, try to limit your intake of trans fats to less than 1 percent of your total calories on any given day, the AHA suggests. Read the nutrition facts label when you buy food to keep an eye on how much trans fat you’re consuming. “Look at the ingredients, and if ingredients say hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated, there are trans fats in there,” says Barry Franklin, director of cardiac rehabilitation at the William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Mich.
- Quit smoking. There are plenty of reasons to stop, but one that’s not widely known is that smoking has been shown to decrease HDL levels. Smoking also makes it harder to work out, which means it is less likely you’ll reach healthful cholesterol goals. And that’s not all. Consider these other reasons why you should stop smoking right now.
To read a more in-depth article about How To Lower Cholesterol Naturally, click here.