Cholesterol is a lipid substance produced by the liver. Contrary to what many people think, cholesterol is actually essential for our body.
Cholesterol is one of the most important substances produced by our body. Most of us readily associate cholesterol with fats and understand it to be harmful for our health. However, cholesterol is in fact vital for our body and it s many functions.
Cholesterol is a lipid (a fat substance) produced by the liver. It is thick and waxy in texture and can be found in the blood plasma of every animal. About 75% of the cholesterol is produced by our body, and the rest of the 25% comes from the food we eat. Mainly, cholesterol comes from animal products such as eggs, meat, cheese, etc. Almost every cell in our body has cholesterol in its outer layer, which goes to show that cholesterol is essential in many functions of the body, such as:
- It builds and maintains cell membranes.
- It is essential for determining which molecules can pass into the cell and which cannot (cell membrane permeability).
- It is involved in the production of sex hormones (androgens and estrogens).
- It is essential for the production of hormones released by the adrenal glands (cortisol, corticosterone, aldosterone, and others).
- It aids in the production of bile.
- It converts sunshine to vitamin D, which among other things is said to have cardiovascular benefits. However, scientists at Rockefeller University were surprised to find that taking vitamin D supplements did not reduce the risk of cholesterol-related cardiovascular disease.
- It is important for the metabolism of fat soluble vitamins, including vitamins A, D, E, and K.
- It insulates nerve fibers.
However, too much of cholesterol isn’t good for our health at all, especially bad cholesterol. Cholesterol is carried in the various blood streams of our body by special molecules known as lipoproteins. Lipoproteins are complex substances made up of lipids (fat) and proteins, and there are two types of the same in our bodies:
High Density Lipoproteins (Good cholesterol): HDL or the good cholesterol is the cholesterol that a person should be aiming to have more in his body. The HDLs’ main function is to transport cholesterol away from the cells and arteries, and back into the liver, where it was originally produced. The HDLs also help in clearing off the plaque being deposited in the arteries by the LDLs or the bad cholesterol.
Low Density Lipoproteins (Bad cholesterol): LDL or bad cholesterol is a very harmful substance for the body. The LDLs function exactly opposite to the HDLs in the way that they transport cholesterol from the liver to the various blood streams like arteries and to various cells of the body. In the process of doing so, the LDLs also tend to deposit thick plaque on arterial walls. This plaque generally contains cholesterol and other substances which can stop the blood flow in an artery or cause clotting by blocking the blood path. This is also how a patient can suffer severe medical conditions such as a heart attack.
Along with the HDLs and the LDLs, cholesterol is associative with a substance known as triglyceride. The triglycerides originate from the fat in our food, or thgrough the carbohydrates present in the body. Blood fat or plasma lipids are the result of the direct alliance of cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood.
The total sum of the HDLs, the LDLs and twenty percent of the triglycerides in the blood of a person, makes up his cholesterol score, or the level of cholesterol in his blood. Normally, the desired cholesterol level for a person to have is less than 200 mg/dl (milligrams per deciliter). However, the doctors may also use another unit of measurement, which is mmol/liter (millimoles/liter) for calculating the cholesterol level in the blood stream of a person. The below is a list of cholesterol levels as per both units of measurement:
- Desirable - Less than 200 mg/dL.
- Bordeline high - 200 to 239 mg/dL.
- High - 240 mg/dL and above.
- Optimum level: less than 5mmol/liter.
- Mildly high cholesterol level: between 5 to 6.4mmol/liter.
- Moderately high cholesterol level: between 6.5 to 7.8mmol/liter.
- Very high cholesterol level: above 7.8mmol/liter.
It’s obvious that having a high cholesterol level is harmful for a person, but the extent of the harm may vary depending upon the person and his medical history. Typically, a person having a high cholesterol level would be exposed to dangers such as:
- Atherosclerosis - narrowing of the arteries.
- Higher coronary heart disease risk - an abnormality of the arteries that supply blood and oxygen to the heart.
- Heart attack - occurs when the supply of blood and oxygen to an area of heart muscle is blocked, usually by a clot in a coronary artery. This causes your heart muscle to die.
- Angina - chest pain or discomfort that occurs when your heart muscle does not get enough blood.
- Stroke and mini-stroke - occurs when a blood clot blocks an artery or vein, interrupting the flow to an area of the brain. Can also occur when a blood vessel breaks. Brain cells begin to die.
Regardless of these dangers, the best thing about human health is that it can always be improved. The same applies to cholesterol problems as well. Leading a healthy lifestyle with plenty of exercises, a healthy diet of fruits and vegetables, etc. would greatly help in curbing excess cholesterol. Also, avoiding needless substances such as trans-fats, cigarette smoking, alcohol consumption, etc., can bring about a great deal of change in a cholesterol patient and make him healthier.