According to the Centers For Disease Control And Prevention (CDC), a third of Americans suffer from high cholesterol. Understandably this makes us all wary of cholesterol, assuming that all cholesterol is bad. However, this is not the case. Our bodies need cholesterol in order to function properly. Here we look at what cholesterol is, and how it can affect you.
What is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a lipid, a fatty, wax-like substance that is needed to build cells. Every single animal, including humans, needs cholesterol in order to create their cell walls and membranes. Because of its waxy consistency, cholesterol doesn’t dissolve in the blood, it combines with proteins which help them to enter the bloodstream and travel around the body.
What Are The Types Of Cholesterol?
The proteins that carry help cholesterol to become more soluble in the blood are called lipoproteins (fat proteins). There are two types of cholesterol; low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL). LDL transports cholesterol from the liver to the cells that need it. If there is more cholesterol than the cells need, the cholesterol can build up in the walls of the arteries, causing them to narrow. As a result, LDL cholesterol is often referred to as “bad cholesterol”.
Another lipoprotein, high density lipoprotein (HDL) is used to carry cholesterol away from the cells and back to the liver, where it is broken down or excreted by the body. HDL is known as “good cholesterol because higher HDL levels mean that the body is better able to dispose of unwanted cholesterol.
Where Does Cholesterol Come From?
Our bodies are made to produce as much cholesterol as they need for cell development. Made primarily in our livers, our bodies produce about 1000mg of cholesterol a day. Genetics can play a part in cholesterol levels; some people are genetically disposed to produce higher levels of cholesterol than others. However, we also get lots of cholesterol in the form of fat in our diet. Because cholesterol is created in all animals, all animal products (meat, eggs, dairy) contain cholesterol. The highest levels of cholesterol are found in saturated fats, like red meat, hydrogenated fat and vegetable oil.
What Can You Do?
Being overweight is a primary contributor to high cholesterol. This is because people who are overweight tend to eat more calories and foods that are higher in fat.
By maintaining a healthy weight and limiting the amount of high-cholesterol foods, such as saturated fat, we can limit the levels of bad cholesterol in our blood. Regular exercise is another good way to reduce cholesterol levels, as regular activity is shown to reduce levels of LDL and increase levels of HDL.
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