Dr. Ben Wedro practices emergency medicine at Gundersen Clinic, a regional trauma center in La Crosse, Wisconsin. His background includes undergraduate and medical studies at the University of Alberta, a Family Practice internship at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario and residency training in Emergency Medicine at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.
Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.
Cholesterol is a chemical compound that the body requires as a building block for cell membranes and for hormones like estrogen and testosterone. The liver produces about 80% of the body's cholesterol and the rest comes from dietary sources like meat, poultry, eggs, fish, and dairy products. Foods derived from plants contain no cholesterol.
Cholesterol content in the bloodstream is regulated by the liver. After a meal, cholesterol in the diet is absorbed from the small intestine and metabolized and stored in the liver. As the body requires cholesterol, it may be secreted by the liver.
When too much cholesterol is present in the body, it can build up in deposits called plaque along the inside walls of arteries, causing them to narrow.
What are the different types of cholesterol?
Cholesterol does not travel freely through the bloodstream. Instead, it is attached to a protein and the two together are called a lipoprotein (lipo=fat). There are three types of lipoproteins that are categorized based upon how much protein there is in relation to the amount of cholesterol.
Low-density lipoproteins (LDL) contain a higher ration of cholesterol to protein and are thought of as the “bad” cholesterol. Elevated levels of LDL lipoprotein increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, and peripheral artery disease, by helping form cholesterol plaque along the inside of artery walls. Over time, as plaque buildup increases, the artery narrows (atherosclerosis) and blood flow decreases. If the plaque ruptures, it can cause a blood clot to form that prevents any blood flow. This clot is the cause of a heart attack or myocardial infarction if the clot occurs in one of the coronary arteries in the heart.
High-density lipoproteins (HDL) are made up of a higher level of protein and a lower level of cholesterol. These tend to be thought of as “good” cholesterol because they can extract cholesterol from artery walls and dispose of them in the liver. The higher the HDL to LDL ratio, the better it is for the individual because such ratios can potentially be protective against heart disease, stroke, and peripheral artery disease.
Very low-density lipoproteins (VLDL) contain even less protein than LDL.
Total cholesterol is the sum of HDL, LDL, and VLDL.
Reviewed by William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR on 10/21/2013
Author: Betty Kovacs, MS, RD
Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
Viewer Question: My cholesterol is 210. A couple years ago, I stopped eating meat in
an attempt to lower my cholesterol, but that hasn't helped much. Are
there any foods that will lower my cholesterol?
Expert's Response: It's great that you tried to change your diet to help lower your cholesterol. While cutting back on red meat can help, there are many other foods that you can cut back on or remove from your diet that will have an even greater impact on your cholesterol.
For anyone with high cholesterol, or more importantly a high LDL, the three things to limit are trans fats, saturated fats and cholesterol. Of these three the most important one to limit, or completely omit, is the trans fats. The sources of trans fats are: commercial baked goods (cake, cookies, crackers, donuts), vegetable shortening, fried foods, some margarines, and anything made with partially hydrogenated oil. The label will tell you if there are any grams of trans fat in the product, but the best thing to do is read the list of ingredients and look for any oil that is hydrogenated. The next thing to cut back on would be foods with high amounts of saturated fat. The sources of saturated fats are:...