Like many other health and weight loss related concepts, cholesterol is more often than not discussed in negative terms, with most of the confusion and negativity surrounding this essential component of the body's cell membranes mostly due to the all-purpose use of the term.
Notwithstanding the fact that excessive amounts of cholesterol in the bloodstream plays a notorious role in clogging the arteries and thereby contributing to the development of Coronary Artery Disease (CAD) and stroke, cholesterol nonetheless remains very essential to the body.
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like compound that occurs naturally throughout the body, including the blood, brain, cell walls, muscles, skin, and most other body tissues and is needed by the body to function properly. The body uses cholesterol to build and repair cells, insulate nerves and manufacture many hormones like the steroid hormones estrogen and testosterone. It is equally used in the production of Vitamin D and also converted into bile acids which help to digest food.
The body however needs only a small amount of cholesterol to meet most of these needs and therefore any excess amount in the blood poses a health risk.
Cholesterol in the blood has two major sources: 25% of it comes from food intake while 75% is manufactured by the liver. Dietary cholesterol is derived only from animal sources such as meat, fish, eggs, dairy products, and poultry as well as from foods made from animal products.
Therefore it is very important to realize that the total amount of cholesterol in the body is significantly increased by the amounts of saturated and trans fatty foods consumed. A high cholesterol level is detrimental to health and leads to a condition known as atherosclerosis - the build-up of cholesterol on the walls of the arteries.
Cholesterol and triglycerides are lipids (fats) and are generally insoluble in the blood. To facilitate their movement in the body, they combine with proteins to form what is known as lipoprotein and are thereby able to dissolve in and be carried by the blood throughout the body.
There are various types of lipoproteins in the blood plasma and researchers have been able to identify three major types of cholesterol-carrying proteins in the blood namely: low-density lipoproteins (LDL) also known as "bad" cholesterol; high-density lipoprotein (HDL) known as the "good" cholesterol; and very low-density lipoprotein (VLDL) which is also a "bad" cholesterol.
Low-Density Lipoproteins (LDL) - Bad Cholesterol
This cholesterol transports two fatty substances, cholesterol and various triglycerides and is the main cholesterol carrier in the blood. It consists mostly of cholesterol with little amounts of proteins.
This lipoprotein is regarded as the "bad" cholesterol because elevated levels of it clog the arteries increasing the risk of coronary artery disease. Thus, there is a direct correlation between the level of LDL cholesterol and the rate of coronary artery disease.
The liver plays a major role in the removal of LDL cholesterol from the blood due to its size and high concentration of LDL receptors which are basically responsible for the removal of LDL cholesterol from the blood.
High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL) - Good Cholesterol
About 20-30% of blood cholesterol is carried by high-density lipoproteins (HDL). HDL has a higher concentration of protein and is referred to as the "good" cholesterol because as it moves through the bloodstream, it picks up cholesterol and gives them to other lipoproteins for transport back to the liver.
HDLs therefore counteract the effect of the LDL "bad" cholesterol by extracting cholesterol from the arterial walls and transporting them back to the liver for elimination. Thus, an increased level of HDL cholesterol protects against atherosclerosis and thus reduces the risk of having a heart attack or stroke.
Very Low-Density Lipoprotein (VLDL) - Bad Cholesterol
Triglycerides are fatty compounds which the body makes from excess calories, sugar, and alcohol and which are transported through the blood to fat cells for storage.
Most triglycerides in the blood are transported as very low-density lipoprotein (VLDL), which eventually turn into low-density lipoproteins (LDL). Though containing mostly triglycerides, VLDLs also have some amounts of cholesterol.
Hormones regulate the release of triglycerides from fat tissue to meet the body's needs for energy between meals and although a certain amount of triglyceride in the blood is normal, at high levels, they can however increase the risk of atherosclerosis.
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