Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde, you know? Well the good and the bad cholesterol, it’s a bit the same story: there is actually only one cholesterol, which can be good – it is moreover essential for the functioning of our body – or bad, when it is present in excess!
Cholesterol is a molecule of the lipid family. It is essential to the composition of the membranes that surround our cells, participates in the formation of connections between our neurons, and allows the synthesis of substances such as bile acids, vitamin D, or even some of our hormones…: in short, “ having cholesterol” is simply vital! Moreover, our body manufactures it itself, mainly in our liver.
To be transported from this organ to the cells that need it, everywhere in our body, cholesterol travels in the blood inside “vehicles” called LDL, to low density lipoproteins or low density lipoproteins. Other vehicles are responsible for collecting “used” or superfluous cholesterol molecules and returning them to the liver for recycling or elimination. These are the HDL (for high density lipoproteins or high density lipoproteins). The latter intervene in particular to unload the blood vessels of the clumps of cholesterol likely to accumulate there, for example when their quantity in circulation exceeds the needs of our cells.
If there is only one type of cholesterol, its impact on our body therefore depends on the vehicle that transports it. Associated with LDL and in excess, cholesterol will end up damaging and clogging our vessels, thus increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease. This is called “bad cholesterol”. But when they are transported in HDL, cholesterol molecules are no longer harmful, hence their nickname “good cholesterol”.
Understanding these mechanisms has opened up an interesting avenue for therapeutic research: by increasing the quantity of HDL circulating in the body, it would theoretically be possible to reduce the cardiovascular risk induced by an excessive presence of cholesterol. Alas, so far none of the strategies tested to achieve this have actually worked. But the researchers have not said their last word! Especially since they discovered other advantages of HDL: for example, they would have anti-inflammatory properties, which are also beneficial for our vessels.
In the meantime, if your cholesterol level is too high, the solution is to apply proven measures to lower it. On the program: regular physical activity, a diet less rich in saturated fats (moderate your consumption of butter, meats and cheese) and/or, in particular in the event of an unfavorable genetic background, the use of drug treatment.
And to learn more about HDLs and research on them, discover for example:
And to motivate you to improve your lifestyle, consult our file on atherosclerosis.