Cholesterol is a lipid found in the blood and in body tissues. Although it plays important roles for the organism, its excess in the blood can be harmful, since its accumulation can end up damaging the arteries and the heart. Approximately 80% of our body’s cholesterol is produced in liver and the rest comes from food we eat.
Functions of Cholesterol
Cholesterol is the precursor of certain hormones such as sex hormones (progesterone, testosterone and estrogens) and other hormones such as cortisol and aldosterone. It’s a precursor of vitamin D and bile salts as well. In addition, it is a structural component of cell membranes. It travels through blood to be used in various parts of the body. The normal blood cholesterol level is between 150 and 200 ml. in case of higher concentration, hypercholesterolemia occurs, the excess of cholesterol in the blood.
Good and Bad Cholesterol
In blood, cholesterol is transported as part of complexes called lipoproteins, which are Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL) and High Density Lipoprotein (HDL).
LDL is also known as ‘bad cholesterol’ because it is responsible for transporting cholesterol to the cells, so that they can use it to perform the abovementioned functions, and its excess in blood is harmful.
HDL is responsible for collecting cholesterol from blood and transporting it to liver to be eliminated. This is why it is known as ‘good cholesterol’ since it helps to eliminate excess cholesterol in blood.
Cholesterol is found in foods of animal origin like eggs, dairy products, meat and poultry. It is especially abundant in egg yolk. Vegetable foods, on the other hand, do not contain cholesterol.
Harmful Effects of Cholesterol
When the level of cholesterol in blood is too high, there is a risk that it accumulates in arteries’ walls forming plaques that damages and thickens the called atherosclerosis. If one of these plaques ruptures, a blood clot may form, which in turn travels through the blood and may obstruct an artery. If an artery that feeds the heart is clogged, heart attack will occur, and if an artery that feeds brain is blocked, cerebral infarction will occur. When there are other risk factors such as hypertension or smoking, the risk of heart disease increases even more.
What can you do to lower your cholesterol level?
If your blood cholesterol levels are slightly high, you can follow the recommendations below. However, if it is too high, it is important that you go to the doctor to treat it and avoid damage to your arteries.
Do physical exercise as it helps increase ‘good’ cholesterol levels.
Reduce or eliminate saturated fats from your diet.
Maintain a normal weight.
Try to make a healthy diet rich in fiber.