I spend a lot of time doing aerobic activities to strengthen my cardiovascular system. I needed to understand what affect my diet was having on my health and fitness at a macro-level.
Understanding the effect of HDL and LDL on my health. Eating is a pretty mindless activity for most people. We must become aware that what we consume has long term health affects. In particular, the heart and cardiovascular system, the body’s primary engine, is affected by HDL and LDL cholesterol levels.
You’ve heard that HDL is “good” cholesterol and “LDL” is bad cholesterol. We go to the doctor, get tested and walk away with our results. At best, we understand that total cholesterol should be low, HDL cholesterol should be slightly higher, and LDL should be lowest.
You try to work with that, to tweak your diet, but until you really understand what it means for your health there s likely to be little change. This explanation will help you better understand the role of both HDL and LDL cholesterol in the formation or prevention of atherosclerosis, which can lead to a heart attack (myocardial infarction.)
The difference in HDL and LDL.
The important thing to understand about HDL and LDL is what they do in your bloodstream. Specifically, we want to understand what they do with cholesterol. We only have control over how much cholesterol we consume. The body produces cholesterol on its own. Understanding what the HDL and LDL do with that cholesterol should help you better understand the importance of monitoring cholesterol levels in your health. It helped me.
LDL – the bad cholesterol
LDL gets the bad rap, and rightly so. I wanted to know why. According to Werner W. and Sharon A. Hoeger, both HDL and LDL carry cholesterol through the bloodstream. The big difference is in how the cholesterol is carried and released. LDL releases cholesterols which are absorbed by artery linings. The cholesterol may then be oxidized by free radicals, in which case it attracts white blood cells. The blood cells absorb the cholesterol and begin to build plaque on the interior of the artery walls. This leads to atherosclerosis, constriction of the arteries due to plaque formation.
What can you do to lower LDL?
The two most important things you can do to lower your level LDL is to exercise and avoid trans fat. A healthy diet, low in trans fat, also known as hydrogenated oils, takes effort. Many mass produced food products depend on trans fat for preservation, shelf life, and taste. This means you must make a mindful decision to change the way you eat.
The other way to lower you LDL is to increase your activity level, which is something you should be doing anyway to improve lifestyle, cardiovascular fitness, insulin resistance, and prevent unhealthy weight gain.
HDL – I had trouble believing any cholesterol is good.
Research and study has changed my mind. I thought it was probably a good idea to avoid cholesterol all together. It is a good idea to keep total cholesterol down, but HDL cholesterol are beneficial to your cardiovascular health.
HDLs have been described by fitness and wellness expert Hoeger as scavengers. They float around your body in the bloodstream attaching to cholesterol filled cells and robbing them of their protein. According to recent tests, a simple increase of 1 mg of HDL cholesterol in blood volume results in a 3-5 percent drop in the risk for cardiovascular heart disease.
Not paid much attention to cholesteroal before now?
Cholesterol levels are not just important to people over the age of 45. Regardless of your age, you should have your cholesterol levels checked and monitored on a regular basis. It may even be more important if you are young and somewhat careless with your diet. A diet high in cholesterol and elevated levels of LDL may shorten your life expectancy.
Hoeger, Werner W. K., and Sharon A. Hoeger. “Preventing Cardiovascular Disease.”
Principles and Labs for Fitness and Wellness. 12e ed. Pacific Grove, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2014. 411-15. Print.
Personal interview/discussion with Dr. David Gose, MD, Internal Medicine.
Wendy Dawn is a lifestyle fitness enthusiast and personal trainer in Atlanta, GA. Her goal is to help others come to a better understand of their health and fitness needs for greater longevity.