Understanding CholesterolOct 31, 2013
What exactly is cholesterol? We know there is good cholesterol and bad, but what does it all really mean? Dr. Tom Miller has the facts and tells us why it's important to know your numbers.
Scot: Medical news and research from University of Utah physicians and specialists you can use for a happier and healthier life. You're listening to The Scope.
On this episode of Health 101, understanding cholesterol, we're with Dr. Tom Miller, University of Utah Hospital and Chief Medical Officer for the University of Utah Hospitals and Clinics. Cholesterol 101, what is cholesterol?
Dr. Tom Miller: Cholesterol is a substance that the body requires to maintain the integrity of the cellular walls.
Dr. Tom Miller: Without it we wouldn't survive, we'd just sort of turn into a bag of jelly.
Scot: And where do we get our cholesterol from?
Dr. Tom Miller: Cholesterol comes from animal foods, animal based foods. Plants don't produce cholesterol, animals do.
Scot: Okay and does the human body produce any cholesterol?
Dr. Tom Miller: We produce it as well so we take it in through the foods we consume, and our body produces it.
Scot: So how many different types of cholesterol are there?
Dr. Tom Miller: There are a couple that the average person ought to know about.
Dr. Tom Miller: There's good cholesterol, and there's bad cholesterol and then there are triglycerides.
Scot: All right and let's go over who's the good.
Dr. Tom Miller: The good cholesterol is called HDL cholesterol and that is a cholesterol that the higher the value you have, the higher the amount of HDL cholesterol, the better off you are and the lower chance you are of having heart disease.
Scot: So think H high, HDL good, want it high.
Dr. Tom Miller: You know that's a great way to think about it Scot.
Scot: All right, and who's the bad?
Dr. Tom Miller: LDL, I guess you could say L for low. LDL cholesterol is bad cholesterol and the higher that value the more risk you place yourself at for developing cardiovascular disease.
Scot: LDL protects against that sort of stuff?
Dr. Tom Miller: HDL.
Scot: HDL protects against that because we want that high.
Dr. Tom Miller: High is good.
Scot: High is good.
Dr. Tom Miller: L is low is bad.
Scot: Low is bad. How can we raise our HDL if that's what our doctor said our problem is?
Dr. Tom Miller: So how you raise your good cholesterol is your workout, your lose weight and you stop smoking and you don't drink too much.
Scot: All right and how do you lower the LDL, the bad?
Dr. Tom Miller: You can lower LDL cholesterol in the same way I've described as to how you raise your good for HDL cholesterol but in some folks you either make too much of it, or you take in too much bad cholesterol through the foods you eat and you may require medication to get it down and now we have medication that has been proven to lower the bad cholesterol, the LDL cholesterol and it works quite well.
Scot: So somebody could be completely healthy, have a great diet but their LDL still might be a little high because their body just is making more?
Dr. Tom Miller: That would be correct and in fact, they would have likely inherited that predisposition from their parents. You find families where early heart attacks occur in men below the age of 50, and many times you will find that they have very high bad cholesterols and those are the kind of patients that will need to have their cholesterol controlled with medication many times. But that still doesn't stop you from eating correctly and doing the right things in your behavior.
Scot: Can your LDLs be too low, or can your HDLs ever be too high?
Dr. Tom Miller: You know, there really is no cut point to how low your LDL cholesterol can be. We've been looking at that over the years and most researchers would say, the lower the better. And for HDL cholesterol, if you get above a certain level of HDL cholesterol you actually gain the benefit of a lower risk of heart attack, that is, you get a brownie point for a certain level of HDL.
Scot: And what about triglycerides, who are they?
Dr. Tom Miller: Triglycerides are simple fats that arise from the food that you intake and high triglycerides can be treated by sticking to a reasonable diet that is quite low on animal fats.
Scot: So once again that's a range thing, you want to be in a certain range and that's completely controlled by what you eat?
Dr. Tom Miller: You do, it really pretty much is. And we didn't get into numbers today but the more healthy food that you take in, if you adopt a Mediterranean diet or a low fat diet, you're likely to have low triglycerides.
Scot: We're your daily dose of science, conversation, medicine. This is The Scope, University of Utah Health Sciences Radio.