“Good and Bad” cholesterol…really? In this age of information, high tech toys and fancy schmancy terminology is that the best that we can do? That’s like saying cats go meow or dogs go bow wow. I think we can stomach the truth [unintended pun]. There’s a little more to the story of cholesterol than making burger wrappers soggy or fueling Paula Deen’s “Ya’ll.” Stay tuned..
Your fat is lying to you..
Even in this information age so many of us are still manipulated by what I call (as of 5 minutes ago) “catch phrase science.” We do love our misleading names don’t we. I would go so far as to say that in this country misnaming things is as much of a past time as football tailgate parties, apple pie, or reality television. You know what? We’re better than that my friends.
It seems to me that these days you can’t walk into a burger shack or put knife to margarine spread without some granola eating health nut clearing their throats about good and bad cholesterol. DISCLAIMER – [ I have only the deepest respect and admiration for granola eating health nuts and the overwhelmingly positive influence of their Kashi bar commercials.]
My friends, cholesterol is not a four letter word (literally or figuratively). It’s not the curse of an evil wizard as a means of killing off the hobbits. Cholesterol is a natural substance that our bodies use to construct cell membranes. The cholesterol component of the membrane is what contributes to the fluidity and permeability (allowing substances to pass freely in and out) of the cell. Scientifically speaking, if rhythm & blues had a molecular form it would probably look like cholesterol. We just so happen to have a couple trillion cells that make up our bodies that need to be replaced when they get destroyed or grow old and die like they are supposed to (not that I think everything old needs to die, unless it’s taking up a lot of space). So a small amount of cholesterol is necessary to keep our cells tap dancing and happy. Cholesterol is also one of the principle components of steroid hormones. Hormones work to regulate all manner of bodily function from metabolism to sexual maturity and reproduction which is also…fun.
When Cholesterols Attack….
So what’s with the “Good vs. Bad” cholesterol talk you ask? Excellent question, well done. You see our bodies use cholesterol but only in small amounts. What cholesterol we don’t need right then and there gets transported to the liver and is later broken down with the aid of bile and pancreatic lipase. The catch is that cholesterol doesn’t mix well with water. Blood is mostly water so anything being transported through the blood stream needs to be water soluble, and thus should dissolve in water. The molecular structure of cholesterol “ain’t havin that,” chemically speaking. So to solve this problem our bodies package those feisty cholesterol molecules with protein. What we’ve come to call good and bad cholesterol, HDL (high density lipoprotein) and LDL (low density lipoprotein) are actually protein carriers bound to cholesterol molecules. As long as we aren’t taking in too much cholesterol from our diet it’s all good (physiologically speaking). When we get carried away with our cholesterol intake the body needs to produce more carrier protein to move the fat about. These are the low density variety. They are larger and bulkier than their high density counterpart and have this nasty habit of collecting along the walls of blood vessels. This is where the “Bad cholesterol” thing comes into play. When these are allowed to build up, you get a kind of epic plumbing problem where the blood flow through those vessels gets restricted, increasing blood pressure. If that blood flow is completely blocked from fat build up then that could lead to a heart attack and I’m afraid I don’t have any jokes for those…bah dum bump.
Now your HDL (high density lipoprotein) or as I like to call it “the good stuff” is a whole different story. These carriers are smaller, denser, and actually help to remove cholesterol from the blood. We need both forms to function, but as is so often the case with the body, it’s all about maintaining balance among the two. The American Heart Association actually sets a value for that zen-like balance, recommending that we not let our HDL levels go below 40 mg/dl (routine blood tests will tell you that). Apparently letting our levels get this low in the blood prevents those mad skilled lipoproteins from being all they can be when it comes to protecting our hearts.
Well of course there is way more to this gentle art of lowering one’s cholesterol in order to live strong, kick ass, and swing dance another day but hey, you don’t need me to give you all the answers. In this crazy information age let your questions be your guide my fellow wisdom seekers. As for me, it’s bedtime. Until next time…