What Is Cholesterol And Why Does Your Body Need Cholesterol?

There’s no surprise to hear about the ill effects of cholesterol on your health. However, regardless of all the negativity that cholesterol gets, you might be surprised to learn that cholesterol is actually quite necessary for our body and for our overall health. Another surprising fact that most people remain unaware of is that cholesterol is produced naturally by our bodies. However, cholesterol still remains a complex topic, and not many people clearly understand it. Read on to find out why your body needs cholesterol.

What Is Cholesterol And Why Does Your Body Need Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is produced naturally by our bodies. It is made in the liver, and it is actually vital for our existence. It is also possible to get cholesterol through foods, but only animal products like dairy and meat since plants do not produce cholesterol.(1,2,3) Regular consumption of cholesterol-rich animal products, though, is known to be bad for your health and increases the risk of developing many diseases, including obesity, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and others.(4,5,6)

Cholesterol serves the following purposes in our bodies:

  • It is an essential building block for human tissues.
  • It helps in the production of bile in the liver.(7)
  • It helps in the production of sex hormones.(8)

All these are essential functions of the body that are dependent on the presence of sufficient cholesterol. However, of course, too much cholesterol in the bloodstream can increase the risk of heart disease and many others, as mentioned above.

Types of Cholesterol And Which Type Your Body Needs

When we talk about cholesterol, we often hear the terms LDL and HDL cholesterol. LDL stands for low-density lipoprotein, and HDL means high-density lipoprotein. Lipoproteins are compounds made up of protein and fat that help carry cholesterol molecules throughout our body in the bloodstream.(9)

LDL cholesterol is known to be the ‘bad’ cholesterol, while HDL is known to be the ‘good’ cholesterol for the body. But why is LDL cholesterol deemed to be bad? Let’s take a look.

LDL is known to be the bad cholesterol because if the level of this lipoprotein becomes too much in the bloodstream, it can cause your arteries to harden.(10) According to the American Heart Association, too much LDL in the blood can lead to a buildup of plaque on the walls of the arteries.(11) With time as the plaque continues to build up, it can lead to two separate and harmful issues.(12,13)

First is the narrowing of the blood vessels, which severely strains the flow of oxygen-rich blood throughout your body, and second is the formation of blood clots. These blood clots can break loose and end up blocking the artery, blocking the flow of blood. This is one of the leading causes of a stroke or heart attack.

So, when it comes to understanding which type of cholesterol your body needs, then you should be focusing on keeping the LDL levels low and boosting the HDL numbers. Your LDL cholesterol should ideally be below 100 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL).(14)

The reason why you need to have higher levels of HDL cholesterol is that HDL is responsible for keeping your cardiovascular system functioning properly. It also helps in the removal of LDL from the bloodstream. HDL carries the bad LDL cholesterol back to the liver. Once back in the liver, LDL gets broken down and eliminated from the body in the form of waste.

High levels of HDL cholesterol have also been found to provide protection against heart attack and stroke, while high LDL levels increase the risks of a stroke and heart attack.(15,16)

According to research by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), having HDL levels of 60 mg/dL or higher can be considered to be protective and good for your heart and body. In contrast, HDL levels under 40 mg/dL are considered to increase the risk factors for heart disease.(17)

This is why it is important to get a yearly health check-up done that includes a cholesterol test so that you are aware of your cholesterol numbers. This will help you maintain your cholesterol levels accordingly so that your risk of heart disease and other diseases remains low.

Conclusion

There are many factors that influence your cholesterol levels, some of which you can easily control. While genetics also plays a role in determining the natural levels of HDL and LDL cholesterol in the blood, diet, weight, and exercise also play an even bigger role in controlling your cholesterol numbers. Eating foods that are low in saturated fats and cholesterol, managing your weight, exercising regularly, and maintaining a healthy sleeping schedule are all factors associated with lower LDL cholesterol levels and higher HDL cholesterol levels, thus lowering your overall risk of developing heart disease as well.

References:

  1. Healthfully. 2020. Healthfully. [online] Available at: <https://healthfully.com/what-causes-the-liver-to-make-too-much-cholesterol-6276867.html> [Accessed 22 August 2020].
  2. Brumit, M., 2020. Your Liver And Cholesterol | The FH Foundation. [online] The FH Foundation. Available at: <https://thefhfoundation.org/liver-cholesterol> [Accessed 22 August 2020].
  3. 2020. Cholesterol In The Blood. [online] Available at: <https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/high-cholesterol/cholesterol-in-the-blood> [Accessed 22 August 2020].
  4. Williams, R.R., Sorlie, P.D., Feinleib, M., McNamara, P.M., Kannel, W.B. and Dawber, T.R., 1981. Cancer incidence by levels of cholesterol. Jama, 245(3), pp.247-252.
  5. Saini, H.K., Arneja, A.S. and Dhalla, N.S., 2004. Role of cholesterol in cardiovascular dysfunction. The Canadian journal of cardiology, 20(3), p.333.
  6. Franceschini, G., 2001. Epidemiologic evidence for high-density lipoprotein cholesterol as a risk factor for coronary artery disease. The American journal of cardiology, 88(12), pp.9-13.
  7. Javitt, N.B., 1994. Bile acid synthesis from cholesterol: regulatory and auxiliary pathways. The FASEB Journal, 8(15), pp.1308-1311.
  8. Phelps, T., Snyder, E., Rodriguez, E., Child, H. and Harvey, P., 2019. The influence of biological sex and sex hormones on bile acid synthesis and cholesterol homeostasis. Biology of sex differences, 10(1), pp.1-12.
  9. Lemieux, I., Lamarche, B., Couillard, C., Pascot, A., Cantin, B., Bergeron, J., Dagenais, G.R. and Després, J.P., 2001. Total cholesterol/HDL cholesterol ratio vs LDL cholesterol/HDL cholesterol ratio as indices of ischemic heart disease risk in men: the Quebec Cardiovascular Study. Archives of internal medicine, 161(22), pp.2685-2692.
  10. Hao, W. and Friedman, A., 2014. The LDL-HDL profile determines the risk of atherosclerosis: a mathematical model. PloS one, 9(3), p.e90497.
    www.heart.org. 2020. HDL (Good), LDL (Bad) Cholesterol And Triglycerides. [online] Available at: <http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/Cholesterol/AboutCholesterol/Good-vs-Bad-Cholesterol_UCM_305561_Article.jsp> [Accessed 22 August 2020].
  11. Brown, M.S. and Goldstein, J.L., 1984. How LDL receptors influence cholesterol and atherosclerosis. Scientific American, 251(5), pp.58-69.
  12. McNamara, D.J., 2000. Dietary cholesterol and atherosclerosis. Biochimica et Biophysica Acta (BBA)-Molecular and Cell Biology of Lipids, 1529(1-3), pp.310-320.
  13. Cannon, C.P., 2005. The IDEAL cholesterol: lower is better. JAMA, 294(19), pp.2492-2494.
  14. Keys, A., 1980. Alpha lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol in the serum and the risk of coronary heart disease and death. The Lancet, 316(8195), pp.603-606.
  15. Rader, D.J. and Hovingh, G.K., 2014. HDL and cardiovascular disease. The Lancet, 384(9943), pp.618-625.
  16. Nlm.nih.gov. 2020. [online] Available at: <http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/magazine/issues/summer12/articles/summer12pg6-7.html> [Accessed 22 August 2020].

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