Cholesterol. LDL. HDL. Statins.

These terms are tossed around in healthcare conversations like a hot potato. But what do you really need to know about these terms in relation to your own health?

Cholesterol is a necessary fat for all humans. It helps provide structure to your cells, is a precursor for important hormones, such as estrogen and testosterone and even helps your body generate its own Vitamin D. However, the role of cholesterol in both brain and heart health might be the most important reason to pay attention levels of this fat in your blood.

There are two important types of cholesterol for us to monitor – LDL and HDL. LDL stands for Low-Density Lipoprotein, and is often referred to as ‘bad’ cholesterol. On the other hand, HDL, High-Density Lipoprotein, is often referred to as ‘good’ cholesterol, and doctors often encourage greater levels of this protein in one’s blood.

It might seem counter-intuitive to want low levels of Low-Density Lipoprotein yet high levels of High-Density Lipoprotein. However, LDL actually has a low-density of proteins in relation to its high proportion of fatty cholesterol, while HDL has a high proportion of proteins and a lower-density of cholesterol. If you think about it this way, it makes more sense why we would want lower levels of fat running through our bloodstream.

High levels of LDL put one at risk of heart disease. LDL can pile up in your arteries, leading to blockage, which can eventually cause a heart attack or stroke. On the other hand, high levels of HDL promotes a healthy heart, because this protein works to remove the built up LDL in your arteries in order to prevent blood clots and blockage. HDL brings LDL back to your liver which then works to eliminate the harmful substance from your body.

As we get older, studies have not only shown a correlation with heart attacks, strokes and death due to heart disease associated with high levels of LDL and low levels of HDL, but recently, a link between dementia and Alzheimer’s may also have been identified.

So, what can we do about unhealthy levels of LDL or HDL cholesterol? While diet, exercise and quitting smoking might be good options, taking a statin might be the most effective way to keep your two most vital organs, your brain and heart, healthy and sharp.

Statins are one of the most well-researched and proven-effective types of drugs for lowering high LDL cholesterol. Your liver makes its own cholesterol, and statins operate by limiting this production. Today, over 25% of Americans over 40 are currently taking a statin, and under new American Heart Association guidelines, that number is expected to rise another 20%. Statins are proven to be safe and effective for 95% of those who are prescribed them, and thus, even patients who have no risk factors for heart disease other than elevated cholesterol are encouraged to begin statin therapy. Many cheap generics are available today, and if the number of Americans prescribed statins rises 20% as predicted, clinical cardiovascular disease rates could drop 50%.

New American Heart Association guidelines outline which categories of adults might benefit from asking their pharmacist about beginning a statin therapy:

  • Those with a history of cardiovascular disease
  • Those with LDL cholesterol of 190 milligrams or higher
  • Those with LDL between 70 and 189, but who also have diabetes
  • Those with LDL higher than 100, but who also have elevated risks of heart disease due to smoking or hypertension
  • If you fall into any of these categories, have a conversation with your doctor or pharmacist in order to take control of your health and possibly prevent heart disease or dementia later in life.