Cholesterol is a fatty substance that is released into the blood following its production in the liver. The molecule comprises a protein and fat, with the composition determining whether the cholesterol is harmful or healthy. Cholesterol is a vital component of the body due to its direct involvement in the formation of the outer membrane of all body cells, the development of steroid hormones and vitamin D, and the creation of bile acids. Cholesterol is also a fundamental element in the production of lipid rafts that are required in the sorting of proteins and the completion of the apoptosis process.
People also acquire cholesterol from their diet after consuming different types of animal products such as milk, pork, yogurt, cream, margarine, sausages, beef, and egg yolk. Baked products, including biscuits, cakes, pizzas, and pastries, are also common sources of cholesterol. Importantly, dietary cholesterol is the primary steroid found in animal tissues. Cholesterol is transported through the bloodstream to other parts of the body in the form of lipoproteins, which are formed when cholesterol combines with body proteins.
The Different Forms of Cholesterol
There are two forms of cholesterol found in the body: high-density lipoproteins (HDL) and low-density lipoproteins (LDL). The function of the HDL is to transport cholesterol from the cells to the liver, while the purpose of LDL to carry cholesterol to the cells from the liver. The HDL is commonly known as the good cholesterol since it helps eliminate the bad cholesterol from the body by returning it to the liver, where it is broken down and excreted. HDL also assists in the formation of bile acids, which digest fats found in foods, while excess bile is excreted from one’s body.
Conversely, the LDL is known as the bad cholesterol since it forms in the lining of blood vessels resulting in clogging and narrowing of the arteries. The interference of the flow of blood throughout the body increases one’s risk of suffering from heart and circulatory ailments such as stroke and heart attack.
Very Low-Density Lipoproteins (VLDL), Intermediate Density Lipoproteins (IDL), and Chylomicrons are other forms of cholesterol that play a vital role in the body. Despite the perception that having too much cholesterol in the blood is a common event, many people are unaware of their health status since it lacks any typical signs and symptoms.
Causes of Abnormal Cholesterol Levels
An individual is considered to have high cholesterol levels when diagnosed with too much LDL in the blood and low HDL. Everyone is susceptible to getting high cholesterol as it is caused by an array of biological, social, genetic, and physiological factors. The liver-cholesterol pool consists of the dietary cholesterol and the endogenous cholesterol formed in the extra-hepatic tissue.
High cholesterol levels may be caused by a poor diet, which includes the consumption of large quantities of saturated fat present in animal products and trans fats found in baked foods such as cookies. Obesity increases the likelihood of having too much cholesterol, whereby an individual’s Body Mass Index (BMI) is equivalent to or greater than 30. Lack of physical activities is a contributing factor to registering abnormal levels of cholesterol as exercises assist in increasing HDL and reducing the amount of LDL in the body. Smoking destroys the walls of the blood vessels, which makes them susceptible to the accumulation of fatty deposits.
On the other hand, undesirable cholesterol levels may result from factors that are beyond human control, including aging, one’s gender, and an individual’s ethnic background. For instance, as one ages, the capacity of the liver to eliminate the bad cholesterol reduces. Health complications such as diabetes also contribute to the increased levels of LDL and damage the lining of arteries.
Maintaining Healthy Cholesterol Levels
Failure to maintain a healthy lifestyle and consuming foods with high saturated fat content, such as processed meats and fried foods, raises the body’s cholesterol levels. Individuals are advised to consume foods containing unsaturated fats, namely nuts, seeds, oily fish, and brown rice. Abnormal levels of cholesterol are harmful since they cause atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is the process in which fatty substances build up in the arteries and form plaques that harden with time, making the arteries stiffer and narrower. Consequently, blood is inhibited from flowing freely in the body, causing a strain on the heart due to the increased rate of pumping blood throughout the body. Subsequently, the heart weakens and fails to function as required, leading to heart failure and stroke.
Additionally, too much cholesterol may foster the formation of a blood clot on the hardened and narrowed sections of the arteries, which permanently blocks the flow of blood.
Nevertheless, individuals may lower their cholesterol levels by maintaining a healthy lifestyle that encompasses developing a daily exercising routine such as cycling, evening walks, enrolling in swimming classes, and going to the gym. Moreover, cholesterol levels may be controlled by avoiding unhealthy habits such as smoking and excessive alcohol consumption as well as specialized medication.
Limiting the intake of foods and drinks with sugar and unsaturated fat content is an ideal way of lowering cholesterol levels too. Notably, one should avoid foods such as processed meat, cakes, biscuits, cheese, and butter and focus on the consumption of a balanced diet that consists of fruits, whole grains, and vegetables.