Understanding Cholesterol

Understanding Cholesterol

Cholesterol is a white, insoluble and waxy substance and fat-like substance that occurs naturally in all parts of the body. Cholesterol is a type of fat that is part of all animal cells. It is essential for many of the body’s metabolic processes, including hormone and bile production, and to help the body use vitamin D.

Excessive consumption of cholesterol in your diet can increase the risk of heart disease. When level of cholesterol in the blood is increased, cholesterol gradually starts depositing in the inner lining of the arterial walls. This leads to narrowing of the arteries and occurs in a condition called arteriosclerosis. It also leads to the formation of small blood clots that can cause arterial blockage and lead to stroke.

Functions of Cholesterol

Cholesterol is produced by the liver and almost all other cells of the body. Functions of cholesterol are as follows:

1. Cholesterol is involved in the production of hormones like estrogen, testosterone and adrenal hormones.
2. Cholesterol is required to build the structure of cell membranes.
3. Cholesterol is also involved in the production of bile acids. Bile acids are the digestive juices which help the body digest fat and absorb important nutrients.
4. Cholesterol also plays a significant role in the efficient functioning of metabolic activities.

Types of Cholesterol

Cholesterol is carried to different parts of the body with the help of lipoproteins. Depending on the lipoproteins cholesterol is classified in to two main types:

1. Low density lipoprotein cholesterol

It is commonly referred to as LDL cholesterol. It carries most of the cholesterol that is delivered to cells. It is called the ‘bad’ cholesterol. When the level of LDL cholesterol in the blood increases it may lead to blockage or clogging of the arteries. This increases the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Health authorities recommend that cholesterol levels should be no higher than 5.5mmols per liter if there are no other risk factors present. If there are other cardiovascular risk factors or pre-existing cardiovascular (heart) disease, then the aim for the LDL levels would be less than 2.5 mmol/L.

2. High density lipoprotein cholesterol

It s commonly referred to as HDL cholesterol. It is called the ‘good’ cholesterol because it helps in the removal of excess cholesterol out of the cells, including cells in the arteries. HDL cholesterol tends to carry this excess cholesterol back to the liver, where it’s passed from the body. According to some experts HDL cholesterol also helps in the removal of excess cholesterol from arterial plaque, thereby slowing its buildup. Decreased levels of HDL cholesterol have been linked to the development of coronary heart disease whereas the increased levels of HDL cholesterol help in prevention of heart disease.

Dietary Cholesterol

The main source of dietary cholesterol is foods that are derived from animals. This includes milk and milk products, meat and oily or fried foods.

Cholesterol levels can be lowered by exercising regularly and eating more fruits and vegetables. You also may need to take medicine to lower your cholesterol.

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Top Image – “Cholesterolfunction” by SpevyyOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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