Pathology Spotlight: Cholesterol Explained – Lori Ryan AEP


Everyone knows about the importance of healthy cholesterol levels, but it can be hard to know exactly what that means and what to do about it. Cholesterol is important and aids in vital bodily functions including hormone production, acts as a building block for tissue, and helps the liver function. The issue lies in having too much of the wrong kind of cholesterol.


Here are the ones that matter:

High-density lipoproteins or HDLs – the good guys. HDLs can help to remove excess LDLs from the blood and prevent fatty plaques forming, maintaining good arterial health. The higher your HDLs the lower your risk of cardiovascular disease.


Low-density lipoproteins or LDLs – the bad guys. LDLs can build up in your arteries and form fatty plaques. This can result in atherosclerosis and eventually cause blockages in the arteries limiting blood supply to the heart and other areas of the body including the brain, other organs, and limbs. The lower your LDLs, the lower your risk of cardiovascular disease.


Total cholesterol – this number paints a picture of your whole lipid profile, considering your HDL and LDL levels, as well as other lipid components.


Triglycerides – these are fats that come from the food we eat. Excess kilojoules, sugar, and alcohol are carried in the blood and turned into triglycerides. They are stored in fat cells throughout the body.


Management and Treatment:

  1. Your GP or cardiologist may prescribe a family of medications known as statins to reduce LDL levels, increase HDL levels and improve your overall cholesterol profile. This reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease and cardiovascular events. Your doctor may also prescribe a statin as a preventative measure if heart disease is part of your family history.
  2. Dietary changes can help to reduce LDL levels and increase HDL levels. This can be done through reduced saturated and trans fat intake, or increasing omega-3, fibre, or protein intake. As always, consult a dietician for individualized and precise advice on dietary changes specific to you.
  3. EXERCISE! – exercise can help to reduce levels of LDLs and increase HDL levels, having a very positive impact on your lipid profile. This can be done through various modalities including aerobic and resistance training. The Australian guidelines recommend aiming for 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise, with resistance training on at least 2 days per week. More importantly- SOME is better than NONE! It is always best to consult your Accredited Exercise Physiologist about a graded exercise program designed specifically for your needs and goals to progressively introduce regular exercise.