What Is Cholesterol? Find The Answer And Make Heart Smart Decisions

Have you ever asked the question what is cholesterol? Cholesterol is not a disease, as a lot of people define it. I have heard people saying “my doctor says I have cholesterol” or “a friend of mine has cholesterol so I have to make sure I don’t get it because I've heard cholesterol disease can kill you.” These statements clearly show that there are still a lot of misconceptions as to what cholesterol really is.

So What is cholesterol then? Cholesterol defined as a soft waxy fat-like substance found in the bloodstream that is essential for body functions such the building of cells walls, the making of hormones, nerve sheaths and bile. Because it is essential for the body to have a certain amount, the liver manufactures about 1 gram a day to sustain these functions.

Aside of what the liver produces, we also ingest cholesterol from our diet – specifically from the animal produce we consume. Technically, the body does not need the additional cholesterol we consume because what the liver produces is enough for the specific body functions that requires it.

Now that we have defined what is cholesterol, we must realistically know that unless you follow a strict vegan diet, you are bound to consume varying amounts of cholesterol from animal produce.

The body must process dietary cholesterol after it is ingested and factors such as genetics, gender, and exercise all influence how these processes are carried out. The reason why some people can consume large amounts of cholesterol and still have normal blood levels whilst others eat very little and still have high blood cholesterol is because of these genetic, gender and exercise factors.


High Density Lipoprotein (HDL) And Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL)

Still trying to find an answer to the question, what is cholesterol? Cholesterol is like a type of fat so it cannot easily travel through the bloodstream. It therefore has to bind with a much solid substance before it can move freely in the blood. These substances are lipid-carrying proteins and when cholesterol binds to them, they now become known as lipoproteins.

The two types of lipoproteins – namely Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and High-density lipoprotein (HDL) are the major transporters of cholesterol. LDLs carry two-thirds of the cholesterol, and most of the remainder is attached to HDLs.




The Good, The Bad And The Ugly

So who are these guys? Well we are not talking about the movie here. These are the types of cholesterol. In the process of the cholesterol transportation by LDL and HDL, LDL tends to deposit cholesterol in the artery walls, which causes atherosclerosis and also increases the risk of heart disease. In comparison, HDLs collect cholesterol and take it to the liver to be metabolized and eliminated from the body. This is why LDLs are called “bad” cholesterol and HDLs called the “good” cholesterol.

Now in case you are wondering who the “Ugly” is, it is a third type of lipoprotein called Very-Low-density lipoprotein (VLDL). This lipoprotein carry a small amount of cholesterol and a type of fat called triglycerides. When triglycerides are high, it can quickly lead to clogged arteries and heart disease. High levels of LDL and VLDL equals heart trouble.


How Cholesterol Levels Are Measured

When blood is drawn for cholesterol testing, the first measurement carried out is for the total amount of cholesterol in a deciliter of blood. Any amount below 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) is considered desirable. If the total is more than 200 mg/dL, LDL and HDL levels should be measured individually.

Generally, LDL levels should be 100 mg/dL and below. 130 to 159 are classified as borderline high, and anything over 160 mg/dL is considered high risk for coronary heart disease. HDL levels should be at least 60 mg/dL or higher, and the higher the better. In assessing cardiovascular risk, doctors calculate the LDL/HDL ratio by dividing the total cholesterol by the HDL number. A desirable ratio should be below 4.5. For example, if your total cholesterol is 240 and your HDL level is 60, then your ratio will be 4.0, which puts you in a low risk group.


Defending Yourself From “Bad” Cholesterol

Now that we have answered the question what is cholesterol? how can we bring our levels down if they are too high. First let’s consider this little scenario here:

You went to your doctor for your annual check-up and your blood was drawn for cholesterol check. The doctor calls you a couple of days later and says your LDL level is 165 mg/dL – very high. He proceeds to tell you that this level has to come down immediately or you risk a heart attack.

Your first reaction is to panic – of course who wouldn’t. He then recommends you go on prescription statin, the most common drug to lower cholesterol. Your mind begins to race. You don’t want to be on some drug for the rest of your life, but what choice do you have? You ask yourself. Probably none, you resolve. Well you’ll just have stop by the doctor’s office and pick up the prescription.

Yes! You do have a choice, says an international team of scientists from the Clinical Nutrition and Risk Modification Center at the University of Toronto. Their studies concluded that you can use diet to lower LDL cholesterol by up to 30 percent, the same level of decrease that a statin drug would provide. The recipe is combining the four most powerful cholesterol lowering foods to produce an LDL busting diet. Click this underlined link for the cholesterol lowering foods.
Revisiting the question of what is cholesterol? Well you now have the answer and are completely clear of what cholesterol is. So let's go make some 'heart smart' decisions.

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