Cholesterol is good, actually it is very important for the body; at the same time it can be terrible, largely depending on its type, concentration, circulation, accumulation and its location within the body.
Cholesterol has four major functions in all animal life including humans. It is important in cell membrane as a regulator for proper functioning in different physiological temperatures. Secondly, cholesterol is used in manufacture of bile acids. Cholesterol is also used in manufacture of hormones including sex hormones. Fourthly, vitamin D is derived from a cholesterol derivative.
The link between cholesterol and clogging of blood vessels and often, a sudden collapse of the heart and brain has earned it an unsavoury reputation; heart enemy number one.
Cholesterol and its negative effects?
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that is made in the body by the liver and can be found in some foods such as eggs.
Body requires a certain amount of cholesterol to function properly and produce the necessary hormones. However, if there is too much cholesterol in the blood it sticks in the inner walls of the blood vessels. This causes hardening of the arteries or what is called atherosclerosis. Three medical conditions due to clogging of arteries can occur.
If arteries are partially blocked leading to insufficient supply of oxygen to the heart it leads to severe pain in the chest called angina.
When artery supplying the heart with blood is blocked completely, the heart fails to function properly and leads to a heart attack.
If an artery taking blood to the brain is completely blocked, this damages the brain. This is called a stroke.
Where does cholesterol come from?
Serum cholesterol is made in the body by the liver and it is usually enough for proper functioning of the body.
However, sometimes the balance can go wrong and there is too much cholesterol in the blood than necessary. This may arise as a result of genetic malfunctioning, medical condition or from eating too much dietary cholesterol.
Most of the health problems associated with cholesterol stems from dietary cholesterol. Animal-based foods such as meat, eggs, and dairy products contain cholesterol. Plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, and grains do not contain cholesterol.
The other big source of cholesterol is man-made fats called saturated fats such as hydrogenated cooking fat.
What is saturated and Trans fats?
Butter, lard and beef tallow are from animals and are saturated hence solids at ambient temperature. Unsaturated fats on the other hand are liquid at room temperature and are obtained from plant for example sunflower oil.
In the late 1800s, a French chemist discovered that liquid oil could be converted to solid fat by bubbling hydrogen through heated liquid oil in a closed vessel, a process called hydrogenation. The liquid oil can either be partially or completely converted to saturated fat. This was the beginning of all the trouble.
Partial hydrogenation of fats leads to formation of Trans fats that are linked to bad cholesterol that increases the risk of heart disease.
Research shows that artificial Trans fats have higher negative effect on human health than natural Trans fats.
Generally, saturated and trans fats are found in foods such as butter, hard margarine, lard, cream, cheese, fatty meat, cakes, biscuits and chocolates.
Relationship between cholesterol and heart disease
The link between cholesterol and heart disease is complex and requires thorough understanding of types of cholesterol, their functions and sources.
There are two main types of cholesterol, the good cholesterol or high density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol and the bad cholesterol or low density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL).
The high density lipoprotein cholesterol is referred to as good cholesterol because it cleans up the cholesterol left behind in the arteries taking it to the liver where it is broken down and excreted.
The bad cholesterol on the other hand travels from the liver through the arteries to the other parts of the body and sticks on the inner walls of arteries. This makes arteries narrow, reducing the blood flow to the heart or brain.
Why manufacture saturated fat if they are dangerous?
Hydrogenated fats have many commercial advantages; they can be stored longer, can be reused several times and provides special feature to margarine which unlike butter it can be taken out of the refrigerator and applied to bread straightaway.
Safe and dangerous cholesterol levels
A Doctor can measure the amount of cholesterol in the body in terms of total cholesterol, bad cholesterol or good cholesterol.
Desirable total cholesterol should be below 200 milligrams per decilitre, anything between 200-239 milligrams is in borderline while above 240 milligrams is undesirable.
Bad cholesterol (Low density lipoproteins) should be less than 130 milligrams per decilitre anything above 160 milligrams is risky while good cholesterol (high density lipoproteins) should be greater than 35 milligrams per decilitre.
If the blood cholesterol levels are high, the obvious way to lower the amount is by medication.
However, natural ways of lowering cholesterol are the best. These include diet low in saturated and Trans fats and exercise.
The other natural way that is quite valuable is to eat natural foods that lower cholesterol. Know the 15 powerful natural foods that lower cholesterol in the next article.