Breaking Down Cholesterol By Dr. Claire Arcidiacono, ND
Breaking Down Your Cholesterol
By Dr. Claire Arcidiacono, ND.
Cholesterol is one of the most confusing topics in today’s medical world. Many times, those who ask me for help have questions regarding their cholesterol. They often start by telling me their total cholesterol number. But, unknown to them and many others, your total cholesterol is just one of many important factors needed to understand all parts of cholesterol.
1. What makes up total cholesterol?
Total cholesterol is calculated by adding 3 numbers - the values for LDL or low density lipoprotein, the HDL or high density lipoprotein and the VLDL or very low density lipoproteins (this is the carrier for triglycerides). These numbers have a direct relationship with total cholesterol - if any of them rise, the total will as well. So, if you have a high HDL, the total will be high but it is high due to the “good stuff” rather than the “bad stuff” (1).
2. What is LDL?
This is considered the “bad guy” of cholesterol. Normal ranges are from 100 to 130(2). This is considered bad because when the levels are elevated it sticks to blood vessel walls and creates a build-up of plaque. This plaque can break off and travel to the brain, lungs and heart. It can also create a hardening of the blood vessels. Additionally, since it takes up space in the blood vessel, it can lead to high blood pressure and poor circulation (3). On the other hand, if LDL becomes too low, other health problems may arise. LDL is used to make cell membranes, hormones and vitamin D. Without enough LDL, it can be difficult to make these structures (4). LDL is a much more complex issue – a lower amount is always better.
3. What is HDL?
HDL is high density lipoprotein and is considered the “good guy” because it takes the bad cholesterol to the liver where it is broken down and can leave the body. This prevents it from building up in the blood vessels. It should be at least 40 (5).
4. What is VLDL?
This is one of the number one carriers of triglycerides. It is associated with heart disease and should be under 150 (6).
5. What is meant by HDL ratio?
This is a calculation of the amount of good to bad cholesterol (7).
6. What is the VAP test?
The VAP test is a very in-depth test for cholesterol. In addition to performing the typical tests of LDL, HDL and VLDL, VAP looks at the sizes of the actual particles. This is important because typical tests only detect 40% of all cholesterol related incidents. By focusing on particle size, it can detect a problem before it even starts. That is because many people with a heart attack or stroke (54 % of women and 64 % of men) have normal cholesterol levels. But not all LDL is the same. LDL is made up of 3 main components - IDL, Lp(a), and LDL-R. The LDL is further broken down into pattern A, pattern A/B and pattern B. The IDL and Lp(a) are inherited forms of cholesterol. The LDL-R is the form that is looked at in regards to size. In general, the larger and “fluffier” type B is better than the pattern A. There is a higher health risk associated with pattern A. Therefore, even if your LDL is normal, you may be at risk if it is mostly pattern A. This may be part of the reason why so many people seem to have normal LDL, but end up having health issues. Remember LDL is like a pillow - the lighter and fluffier the better (8).
7. If I have to lower my cholesterol what can I do naturally?
Primarily, it is important to determine exactly what your goals are in regards to cholesterol. There are some supplements that can be very helpful. They include: garlic, red rice yeast, niacin, fish and krill oil, and plant sterols (9). If you are having trouble, speak to your primary physician, a dietician about a healthy diet or visit an InVite® Health store location for a consultation with a nutritionist.