Cholesterol and Heart Disease: the good, the bad and the ugly

Armen Hareyan's picture

(NC) - Many Canadians know that high cholesterol is unhealthy, but few completely understand what it is, or what their target cholesterol levels should be. In fact, many people with high cholesterol don't even know they have it. High cholesterol is a silent condition that, if left unmanaged, can lead to heart disease and stroke.

The 'good' vs 'bad' cholesterol

Many people think that all cholesterol is bad. In fact, some cholesterol is actually good for you. To understand the difference between good and bad cholesterol, it is important to know where cholesterol comes from and what it does in the body.

Cholesterol is produced in the liver and is found in all cells in the body. It helps make cell membranes, some hormones and Vitamin D. In fact, without some cholesterol, the body could not function.

The difference between good cholesterol and bad cholesterol is seen in particles called lipoproteins which help carry fats through the body. There are two kinds of lipoproteins which help make up cholesterol.

  • Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is the "bad" cholesterol. When there is too much "bad" cholesterol in your blood stream, the extra cholesterol is deposited in the arteries, where it contributes to the narrowing and blockages that cause the signs and symptoms of heart disease.


  • High-density lipoprotein (HDL) is the "good" cholesterol, because it helps to carry away "bad" LDL-cholesterol from the arteries. Higher levels of HDL are considered good. Keeping the right balance between LDL and HDL levels is important for good health.

The ugly: heart disease

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in Canada for both men and women. One of the leading causes of heart disease is atherosclerosis, which is the gradual build up of fat, or plaque, on the walls of the blood vessels. Sometimes the plaque ruptures and triggers the formation of blood clots that block the flow of blood. If one of the arteries in the heart is blocked, the result is a heart attack. Similarly, if the circulation to the brain is blocked, it may cause a stroke.

Increasing evidence has shown that keeping blood cholesterol at target levels is necessary to maintain a healthy heart. A lifestyle incorporating a healthy diet and daily exercise will help lower cholesterol. Sometimes however, lifestyle changes are not enough to reduce cholesterol, and cholesterol-lowering medication may be needed to reach recommended cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.

High cholesterol can be managed - but only if people realize they have it. Speak to your doctor about whether you should have your cholesterol levels tested and what your levels should be. For more information about cholesterol and its link to heart disease and stroke, call toll-free 1-877-4-LOW-LDL (1-877-456-9535) or visit


- News Canada