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The Good And Bad Of Cholesterol

This weekend, The Saturday Early Show wrapped up its "Healthy Heart" series with a look at cholesterol -- a subject that can be confusing.

To sort it all out, The Saturday Early Show's Dr. Mallika Marshall explained the difference between good and bad cholesterol. She also gave tips on how to lower bad cholesterol levels naturally.

Cholesterol is a fatty substance that the body uses to make cell membranes and some hormones. Two types of cholesterol are frequently discussed. The first is Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL), which many people refer to as "bad cholesterol." It contributes to plaque on artery walls, that can lead to heart attacks and other cardiovascular problems. High-density Lipoprotein (HDL), or "good cholesterol," helps remove plaque from artery walls. HDL also carries cholesterol from body cells to the liver.

For many years, the thinking has been that if you have high levels of good cholesterol, or HDL, it will help cancel out the negative effects of LDL, or bad cholesterol. But recent research suggests that is not necessarily true. Marshall says you may better ward off heart attacks by lowering bad cholesterol levels, perhaps even going lower than current guidelines. This is all still somewhat controversial, but if further research comes to a similar conclusion, we may see a change in the way we are told to deal with cholesterol.

Healthy Cholesterol Levels

Marshall says you should try and have your total cholesterol level below 200 milligrams per deciliter of blood. That total number is made up of your HDL level, your LDL level, and other fats called triglycerides. According to the American Heart Association, your good or HDL cholesterol should be 60 milligrams or more and your bad or LDL cholesterol should be about 100 milligrams or less. But in light of the new findings, researchers see a call for LDL levels to be even lower. If you don't fall within these guidelines, your doctor will most likely recommend treatment.

People who don't follow a healthful lifestyle are more at risk of having a problem with cholesterol. But, there are other risk factors that really can't be avoided, such as a family history of coronary artery disease. Also, cholesterol levels tend to rise as people get older.

Marshall provided the following tips to lowering your bad cholesterol levels naturally:

  • Stop Smoking
  • Avoid Saturated Fats
  • Lose Weight
  • Exercise Regularly

These are all common sense recommendations, but they are proven to lower your risk. For example, studies have shown that smoking can lower your good cholesterol levels by as much as 15 percent, an undesirable outcome.

If your total cholesterol level fails to come down with these simple lifestyle changes, there are medications that work.

For example, a class of drugs known as statins are very effective at lowering bad cholesterol levels. The statins inhibit an enzyme that the body needs to produce cholesterol. They are prescription medications sold under the names of Lescol, Lipitor, Mevacor, Pravachol and Zocor.

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