LDL the “Bad” Cholesterol Simply Explained

If you are amongst the many millions of people in the USA and the world that have high LDL cholesterol levels, you should know that it is critical that you get this condition managed. High levels of LDL may bring about plaques build-up in the arterial blood vessels, leading to obstructions that may trigger coronary artery disease, cardiac arrest, and stroke. Fortunately, high LDL levels is not an irreversible condition. It is possible to lower that numbers naturally with diet and lifestyle changes.

What is LDL Cholesterol?

LDL stands for Low-Density Lipoprotein and it is more generally called LDL cholesterol, LDL-C or “bad” cholesterol. As cholesterol is a lipid or fat molecule, it cannot move freely in the bloodstream because it is unable to mix with water. For that reason, to be carried in your circulatory system to cells that require it for several functions, cholesterol has to be paired with proteins to form a particle termed as a lipoprotein. LDL composition is  approximately 50 % of cholesterol and just 25 % of protein while HDL particles are made up of 20 % cholesterol and 50 % protein. As fat is less dense as protein, LDL cholesterol has less density than HDL cholesterol. That is why they are called “low-density” lipoproteins and “high-density” lipoproteins. These two lipoproteins are responsible for cholesterol transportation in the body. However, they function in a different way as they do not convey cholesterol to the same parts of the body. From the liver to the cells, LDL is the one in charge of carrying cholesterol in your body to be used for hormone synthesis, vitamin D synthesis, cell membrane stability and many other functions. LDL role is thus critical; but why is it called “bad” cholesterol?

“Bad” Cholesterol Explanation

Arteriosclerosis illustration– While transporting cholesterol in the bloodstream, LDL sometimes deposit in the arterial walls, a process that begins in middle childhood.
– In order to preserve the arteries, white blood cells called macrophages act as scavengers devouring LDL and attempt to digest it. During the operation, LDL is transformed into an oxidized and toxic form.
– The body responds by sending more macrophages as well as other types of white blood cell to the location, developing continuous systemic inflammation in the arterial wall.
– As time passes, additional LDL with other cells accumulate in the wall until it results in plaque, a build-up in the arterial wall composed of cholesterol particles, cells, and cellular debris.
– As the plaque grows, it gradually obstructs the blood flow in the artery.
– In a worst-case scenario, there will an abrupt break of the plaque surface creating a blood clot that may bring about a heart attack if the artery role is to supply blood to the heart, or can cause a stroke if the artery is linked to the brain.

Due to these negative effects of high LDL cholesterol, it has been attributed the nickname of “bad” cholesterol.

What are the Recommended Levels?

LDL Chart

For young kids in good health, the ideal LDL levels are between 25 and 50 mg/dL as plaque build-up has not yet begun in their heart artery walls. When you grow up the normal number is lower than 100 mg/dL enabling you to drastically lower risk of coronary artery disease. However, when you have established heart disease or diabetes, it is even recommended to seek an LDL score of 70 mg/dL. Levels between 100 and 129 are close to optimal while between 130 and 159 mg/dL they are close to high with more risk of heart diseases when compared with previous ranges. Levels between 160 and 189 are considered high and over 190 very high with a maximum risk of getting symptomatic cardiovascular disease events.

Factors that Affect LDL Cholesterol

Dietary factors

Certain foods are loaded with fats that increase your LDL level. These fats are:
saturated fats found in animal meat, dairy foods, chocolate, some prepackaged meals as well as deep-fried and refined foods;
trans fats manufactured by a process of adding hydrogen to vegetable oil to firm it up and used for the preparation of some deep-fried and ready meals.

Physical inactivity and obesity

Not having enough physical exercise may result in weight gain. Carrying excess fat is likely to elevate your LDL level, total cholesterol level and decrease your HDL (good cholesterol) level.

Genetics

Some people may be predisposed to very high LDL levels due to a hereditary disorder termed Familial Hypercholesterolemia (FH) that starts at birth, and may trigger cardiac arrest when young. Your health care provider will help you to figure out if you are prone to FH, so it is critical to consult him or her.

Sex and age

As you get older, your levels of LDL cholesterol rise. Men generally have higher LDL numbers as compared with women before 55 years old. But over 55, it is generally the opposite observation.

Nowadays, medical professionals take into account all the factors above and not only the cholesterol readings to assess a person’s risk to heart diseases.


How to Lower LDL Naturally

Increase soluble fiber intake

Soluble fiber has the property of reducing the level of LDL in the body. The process occurs with cholesterol absorption which is triggered by soluble fiber that binds cholesterol to bile acids for its excretion. When the body gets low on bile acids, the liver starts pulling LDL cholesterol from the blood and uses it to produce more bile. The result is a decrease in LDL levels in the blood and consequently a lowering of the risk of plaque accumulation. A mere 5g to a 10g increase of the daily fiber intake can lower the LDL by about 5%, as stated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Among the best sources of soluble fiber, there are bran, oatmeal, barley, apples, citrus fruits and prunes.

Lower your fat consumption

The AHA recommends that the daily fat intake is limited to 25%-35% of the total caloric intake. Out of this daily fat intake, trans-fat shouldn’t exceed 1%, while saturated fat should be at maximum 7% of the total caloric intake. This measure is also helpful for decreasing the LDL.

Fish should prevail in your diet

Omega-3 rich herring chickpeas to lower ldlFatty fish is rich in Omega-3, thus being very effective in lowering the LDL cholesterol and triglycerides levels in the blood. In order for this to happen, fish must be consumed three times a week in place of meat. The best choices include tuna, salmon, mackerel, sardines and herring. Omega-3 has another added benefit on top of the one mentioned above: it can help protect your heart.

Natural herbs are also good for you

Garlic

Garlic is very effective in fighting atherosclerosis, as revealed in “The Journal of Nutrition”, in an article published in 2001. Garlic increases the resistance to LDL oxidation, thus preventing plaque accumulation on the arterial walls.

Ginger

A study published in 2010 in the “Inflammopharmacology” journal revealed that ginger has the power of lowering cholesterol levels in the blood. The study was done on animal subjects, but the results are promising also for humans. Anyway, if you don’t agree with the taste of ginger in your food, you can always take a supplement in capsule form.

Turmeric

Turmeric is one of the stars in all Indian curry dishes, but it also has a long history of medicinal uses. It was known even in the ancient Ayurvedic medicine, where it was used as a remedy for jaundice. Turmeric is rich in curcumin, a chemical that helps to dissolve blood clots and lowering cholesterol.

Green tea

The health benefits of green tea have been evidenced more than once in various studies, one of them being published in March 2007, in the “Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry”. The positive effects of green tea are due to its catechins content, that may limit the absorption of cholesterol and fats in the body.

Weight loss

The weight loss benefits on health can’t be stressed enough. They can go as far as to make it possible for insulin-dependant diabetics to give up insulin. A weight loss program can help reducing the bad cholesterol, as stated by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Overweight people are at high risk of developing heart disease, therefore lowering weight may help them reduce this risk and gain a better overall health status. If you are interested, you should discuss with your doctor the most suitable weight loss programs for you.

Exercise

Regular exercise is one of the main keys to a good and happy life. You need to exercise for at least 30 minutes every day. Aerobics, jogging or even a brisk walk can increase your HDL cholesterol, consequently lowering the level of LDL cholesterol. If your body isn’t used to exercising, you may consider starting with as little as 10 minutes, then gradually increase your sessions to 30 minutes per day. Discuss your exercise plan with your doctor to make sure it is  appropriate.

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