Cholesterol and Triglycerides – Why Do You Need to Keep Them Both in Check?
When it comes to controlling cholesterol and triglycerides levels, understanding how much control you may have over them is the first step. Cholesterol and triglycerides are both blood fats, they are both necessary for the proper functioning of the body, and too much of them have been attributed to a greater risk of coronary related illnesses. But, they are very different in many ways too. Cholesterol is made by the body and ingested with the food that we eat. It is used by the body to make cells and carry out numerous vital processes. Conversely, triglycerides are used for energy and come from the food that we eat. Extra triglycerides are stored as fat within the body for later use, according to WebMD, and a spare tire around the midsection can actually be thought of as a ring o’ triglycerides.
Lipid lowering medications are used commonly as one way to control cholesterol and triglycerides. Statin-based medications are typically employed to reduce the amount of LDL cholesterol that is found in the blood. LDL cholesterol is known as ‘bad’ cholesterol because it can attach itself to plaques beginning to form in the arteries which can lead to blockages over time, thus inhibiting blood flow and potentially leading to a heart attack. Other lipid lowering medications like fibrates and nitrates are used to lower LDL cholesterol but also to manage the levels of triglycerides and HDL cholesterol found in the blood. The use of high cholesterol medications is typically secondary to dietary and lifestyle changes, both of which can be responsible for higher than desirable levels of cholesterol and triglycerides.
So why is it important that this balance of blood fats is kept in check? Because not doing so greatly increases the chance of having a heart attack or developing heart disease. Heart.org explains that as the level of cholesterol in the blood increases, so does the risk of heart related illnesses. Cholesterol binds itself to other things floating around in the blood stream and forms deposits that not only can block the passageways of the blood, but can also make them less pliable and flexible. When this happens, a condition known as atherosclerosis can present. HDL cholesterol is also important to reducing this risk. HDL cholesterol traverses the blood highways of the body and seeks out and removes bad cholesterol and sends it off to be disposed of. Thus, low HDL cholesterol levels are also important to manage and keep in check, because they can have a direct impact on LDL cholesterol levels too.
High triglycerides further the risk of heart disease in a number of ways, although they are less clearly defined as the impact that good and bad cholesterol numbers have on the risk of coronary illness. In this way, cholesterol and triglycerides are different, because the evidence behind cholesterol’s impact on the heart is abundantly evident. WebMD explains that high triglycerides often coincide with other heart disease related risk factors like being overweight, and this is one way in which they may translate to a greater impact on heart health. Harvard University offers a supplemental explanation, adding that high triglycerides may contribute to lower levels of HDL cholesterol, which can have an adverse effect on LDL levels long term.
Luckily, making healthful lifestyle changes to control the levels of bad cholesterol and triglycerides can have a significant impact on not only their levels but also the long term risk of heart related illnesses. Elevated triglycerides often come with diets that are high in refined and sugary foods (“white foods”) and reducing them can substantially reduce the levels of triglycerides in the blood. Diets to lower cholesterol are also abundantly successful, with the omission of foods that are high in bad fats and the incorporation of better options like fresh vegetables and fiber rich foods instead proving very successful.
And, aside from eating your way to heart health, there are other considerations to be made as well. A lack of exercise can contribute to low HDL levels, high LDL levels and high triglycerides. Thus an increase in physical activity can help to keep all three in check. And, smoking cigarettes can drop HDL levels (which means fewer highway patrol officers in the bloodstream) and hence potentially higher LDL levels.
These changes can be observed with regular monitoring. For those not yet high risk or those looking to see if their actions are positively affecting their blood fats, home cholesterol test kits are available at drug stores and pharmacies. Unfortunately, they only provide information about total cholesterol and not specific information about types of cholesterol and triglycerides. However cholesterol test kits are able to show decreases in total cholesterol as a result of medications and lifestyle changes and thus can serve as a monitor in between physician visits.
The balance of fats in the blood is very important as it is an indicator of the likelihood of developing heart related diseases or having a heart attack. While managing bad cholesterol is important, ensuring that HDL cholesterol levels and triglyceride levels are also at ideal levels is also essential to reducing heart disease related risks. Each type of fat found in the blood can have a direct impact on heart health, and keeping them in check by getting proper medical care, exercising, changing your diet and eliminating risk factors can greatly reduce the chances that you will develop coronary illnesses.