Cholesterol is a waxy naturally occurring substance found in every cell of the body.
This fat-like nutrient is essential for the formation of cell membranes as well as numerous metabolic processes, including the synthesis of Vitamin D from sunlight.
Unlike oxygen and other nutrients, cholesterol does not dissolve in the blood.
How the Body Transports Cholesterol
The body uses molecules known as lipoproteins to transport cholesterol in and out of cells.
The two types of lipoproteins are low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL), which are colloquially known as bad cholesterol and good cholesterol respectively.
LDL is considered bad cholesterol because the lipoprotein transports cholesterol into the artery walls where it deposits the substance on the lining.
As the cholesterol hardens, it attracts immune system cells known as macrophages, which cause oxidative stress as the cells attempt to eradicate the cholesterol from the blood vessel.
The presence of these hard deposits also makes your arteries less flexible and restricts the flow of blood through the opening.
All of these scenarios can lead to blood clots, ruptured plaques and narrowed or blocked blood vessels that increase your risk for chronic health problems, such as atherosclerosis, heart attack and stroke. The higher your LDL levels, the higher your risk for these medical conditions.
HDL is considered good, or healthy, cholesterol because these lipoproteins can prevent and reduce the risk for stroke and heart disease.
The lipoproteins prevent cholesterol from being deposited in cells and on the walls of blood vessels. Through a process known as reverse cholesterol transport, the lipoprotein removes cholesterol and transports the fatty deposits through the bloodstream to the liver for removal from the body through the intestines.
Removing the fatty deposits also prevent macrophages from accumulating in the blood vessels, which reduces health problems associated oxidative stress and inflammation. The higher your HDL levels, the lower your risk for these medical conditions.
How to Reduce Bad Cholesterol and Increase Good Cholesterol
While the liver manufactures 75 percent of the cholesterol in your system, the rest comes from your diet.
You can reduce your bad cholesterol levels by making some lifestyle changes, such as decreasing your intake of dietary cholesterol and eating more high-fiber foods likes oats and beans.
To increase your HDL cholesterol, reduce your consumption of refined carbohydrates and foods that contain partially hydrogenated vegetable oil.These dangerous fats prolong the shelf life of baked goods and snacks like potato chips, but they increase LDL cholesterol while lowering HDL cholesterol.
This same negative HDL and LDL cholesterol pattern occurs in people who smoke. If you smoke cigarettes, consider dropping the habit.
You can also improve your HDL profile by incorporating at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise into your schedule five times a week.