You may be aware that there is good cholesterol and bad cholesterol, but did you know there are actually 5 different types? In our article below, we’ll look at cholesterol in more detail, including why we need it, where it’s made, and what raises your cholesterol.
What is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a fatty substance that is made in the liver and found in some foods. Your body needs cholesterol for a range of daily functions, but too much can clog up your arteries and lead to health problems in the future.
Every cell in your body contains cholesterol, and it is especially important in our brain, nerves, and skin. Within the body, cholesterol has 3 main roles:
- It’s part of the outer layer of our cells
- It’s used to make vitamin D and steroid hormones which keep bones, teeth, and muscles healthy
- It’s used to make bile, which helps to digest the fats you eat
Where is cholesterol made?
While some of our cholesterol comes from food, about 80% is made in the liver in a complex, 37-step process. Cholesterol and another type of fat called triglycerides cannot circulate loosely in the blood. However, when the liver combines them into lipoproteins, they can be carried in the blood to wherever they’re needed in the body.
What are triglycerides?
Triglycerides are another type of blood fat, and they enter the blood stream after a meal. The liver also makes some. Triglycerides are combined with cholesterol to make lipoproteins to travel throughout the body. When the lipoproteins reach your body’s cells, the triglycerides are used for energy or stored for later.
Raised triglyceride can add to your overall risk of developing heart disease. If your levels are very high, they can cause serious problems like pancreatitis. There are many reason why you might have a high triglyceride levels in your blood and it’s important to find out the exact cause. Your GP will be able to discuss and investigate this with you.
The 5 types of cholesterol
The 2 most commonly talked about lipoproteins are low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and high density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. But there are also 3 other, less commonly talked about lipoproteins.
Often known as bad cholesterol, these lipoproteins can lead to health problems if you have too many in your blood. They contain lots of cholesterol. They deliver cholesterol to the cells that need it, but too much LDL cholesterol can clog up your arteries.
High density lipoproteins are often called good cholesterol because they help to prevent disease. They contain very little cholesterol and are high in protein. HDL cholesterol carries cholesterol away from the cells back to the liver, where it can be broken down and removed from the body.
Very Low Density Lipoproteins (VLDL)
These lipoproteins are larger. They carry triglycerides and some cholesterol, and mainly contain fat with very little protein. Too much VLDL in your blood can clog your arteries.
Intermediate Density Lipoproteins (IDL)
These lipoproteins are VLDL lipoproteins after some triglycerides have been taken out of them. They sit in the middle of VLDL and LDL cholesterol with how much fat they carry.
Chylomicrons are the largest type of lipoprotein. They carry triglycerides from the gut to the liver after a meal. They are then broken down in the liver and their fats are used to make other lipoproteins.
What raises your cholesterol?
The levels of cholesterol and triglycerides in your blood can become raised for a number of reasons, including:
- A diet high in saturated fats
- Not being active enough
- Genetic conditions
High cholesterol is a very common condition, and even young, slim people who eat well and exercise can have cholesterol. Most people don’t know that they have high cholesterol because it usually doesn’t have any symptoms. You might consider using a self-test kit, like this one, to test your cholesterol levels.
Lowering your cholesterol
The good news is that healthy lifestyle changes can help you to lower your cholesterol. And all these changes will add up to lower your risk of developing further health conditions or help to stop them from getting worse. You should:
- Eat healthily
- Quit smoking
- Moderate your alcohol intake
Sometimes, people need treatments to lower their cholesterol, like drugs called statins. This depends on your cholesterol level and why they are high.
This article has been medically approved by Pharmacist Sumaiya Patel - GPhC Reg No: 2215078