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Bad LDL Cholesterol Has a Good Side, Too


If you are used to hearing that LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol is bad, you may be surprised by the results of a new study from Texas A&M University. New research reveals LDL cholesterol has a good side when it comes to adults who exercise.

Everyone needs some LDL cholesterol

LDL cholesterol has been wearing the label of bad guy for many years, primarily because it can collect in the walls of blood vessels and block blood flow, which in turn increases the risk for heart attack. It is not often one hears anything good about LDL cholesterol, although it is an essential fat that helps support cell membranes.

A new study led by Steve Riechman, a researcher in the Department of Health and Kinesiology at Texas A&M, and his colleagues from various institutions, enrolled 52 adults ages 60 to 69 who were in good health but not physically active. Their investigation showed that when the adults participated in fairly vigorous activity, those who gained the most muscle mass also had the highest LDL cholesterol levels.

According to Riechman, these findings show that “you need a certain amount of LDL to gain more muscle mass.” He also noted that LDL cholesterol “acts as a warning sign that something is wrong and it signals the body to these warning signs.”

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Exactly what is wrong depends on the individual. Riechman pointed out that smoking, diet, or lack of exercise could be the reason a person’s LDL cholesterol is too high, and that “it plays a very useful role, does the job it was intended to do.”

The findings of this study may also be beneficial in helping researchers better understand sarcopenia, the loss of muscle associated with aging. In people older than 60, moderate to severe sarcopenia affects about 65 percent of men and about 30 percent of women.

Although sarcopenia is mostly seen in people who are physically inactive, it also occurs in people who remain physically active throughout their lifetime. This suggests that being sedentary is not the only factor contributing to sarcopenia.

Riechmann explained that the more LDL cholesterol in the bloodstream, “the better you are able to build muscle during resistance training.” And that is one reason why bad LDL cholesterol has a good side, too.

Texas A&M University
Vella C, Kravitz L. Sarcopenia.