First, some basic principles in cholesterol profiling. Cholesterol is made in the liver and in some other body cells. It is a waxy fat-like substance and is it found in foods like animal products including meat, dairy foods and eggs. Our body does need cholesterol to help to produce hormones like vitamin D and also to produce bile acids which help to digest fat. But we only need a certain amount of cholesterol. If too much is present, it can clog arteries and cause heart disease. In fact, the hard plaque that excess cholesterol lays down in arteries can also compromise blood flow to the brain or to sexual organs. When you get blood taken and you are given a cholesterol profile you are typically shown a breakdown that includes HDL and LDL. HDL is called the "good cholesterol" and it actually helps you to clear out the bad cholesterol. That's why doctors want you to improve your HDL levels. The other component in the cholesterol breakdown is LDL, also called the "bad cholesterol." When LDL is too high, it is worrisome because that dangerous hard plaque can form, clogging your circulation. Well a new study out of Texas A&M seems to offer a somewhat different perspective on LDL.
The study revealed that LDL may not be the devil in disguise. In fact a new attitude may be in order. Some people may actually benefit from slightly higher LDL levels. Sound like heresy given the current emphasis on reducing LDL? This study revealed that vigorous exercisers who gained the most muscle mass also had higher levels of LDL - a hugely unexpected result. The study showed that you may need both HDL and LDL and not in the amounts previously thought or recommended. The researchers agree that HDL indeed clears out cholesterol build up from arteries. They also acknowledged that LDL can build up in arteries and begin to occlude blood flow. BUT......LDL also appears to have a useful purpose. It actually builds up as a warning sign that "something is wrong" and it then signals the body to "do something" to mitigate the situation. So cells and tissue in the body need LDL to deliver cholesterol and then HDL needs to be on hand to "clean up" after repair is done.
The researchers are curious to extend the study to look at sarcopenia or muscle wasting, typical in the elderly, to see the impact LDL could have in repairing that situation. Bottom line is that the lead researcher would like to see the medical community stop calling LDL "bad cholesterol." This study may signal the need for new terminology.