A waxy, fat-like substance made in the liver, and found in the blood and in all cells of the body.
Cholesterol also comes from eating foods taken from animals such as egg yolks, meat, and whole-milk dairy products.
If you have too much cholesterol in your blood, it can combine with other substances in the blood to form plaque. Plaque sticks to the walls of your arteries. This build-up of plaque is known as atherosclerosis. It can lead to coronary artery disease, where your coronary arteries become narrow or even blocked.
Why is cholesterol needed by the body?
We need a small amount of blood cholesterol because the body uses it to:
build the structure of cell membranes
make hormones like estrogen, testosterone and adrenal hormones
help your metabolism work efficiently, for example, cholesterol is essential for your body to produce vitamin D
produce bile acids, which help the body digest fat and absorb important nutrients.
How cholesterol moves around the body?
Cholesterol is a white, insoluble and waxy substance. It is carried around the body by two key transport systems in the blood, which include:
Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol – carries most of the cholesterol that is delivered to cells. It is called the ‘bad’ cholesterol because when its level in the bloodstream is high, it can clog up your arteries.
High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol – is called the ‘good’ cholesterol, because it helps remove excess cholesterol out of the cells, including cells in the arteries.
A lipid profile also typically measures triglycerides, a type of fat in the blood. Having a high triglyceride level also can increase your risk of heart disease.
So. our body is designed and equipped just to make just the right amount of cholesterol and what brings us to trouble is our diet. Through our unhealthy dietary lifestyle, we are adding more cholesterol to our body.
What are optimal levels of HDL cholesterol?
Cholesterol levels are measured in milligrams (mg) of cholesterol per deciliter (dL) of blood or millimoles (mmol) per liter (L). When it comes to HDL cholesterol, higher numbers are better.
Less than 40 mg/dL (1.0 mmol/L)
60 mg/dL (1.6 mmol/L) or above
Less than 50 mg/dL (1.3 mmol/L)
60 mg/dL (1.6 mmol/L) or above
Effects of high cholesterol levels
The liver is the main processing centre for cholesterol and dietary fat. When we eat animal fats, the liver transports the fat, together with cholesterol in the form of lipoproteins, into our bloodstream.
Too much cholesterol circulating within LDL in our bloodstream leads to fatty deposits developing in the arteries. This causes the vessels to narrow and they can eventually become blocked. This can lead to heart disease and stroke.
If the flow of oxygen-rich blood to your heart muscle is reduced or blocked, it can cause angina (chest pain) or a heart attack.
Plaque also can build up in other arteries in your body, including the arteries that bring oxygen-rich blood to your brain and limbs. This can lead to problems such as carotid artery disease, stroke, and peripheral arterial disease.
Why is my cholesterol elevated?
Poor diet. Eating too much saturated fat or trans fats can result in unhealthy cholesterol levels. Saturated fats are found in fatty cuts of meat and full-fat dairy products. Trans fats are often found in packaged snacks or desserts.
Obesity. Having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or greater puts you at risk of high cholesterol.
Lack of exercise. Exercise helps boost your body’s HDL, the “good,” cholesterol.
Smoking. Cigarette smoking may lower your level of HDL, the “good,” cholesterol.
Alcohol. Drinking too much alcohol can increase your total cholesterol level.
Age. Even young children can have unhealthy cholesterol, but it’s much more common in people over 40. As you age, your liver becomes less able to remove LDL cholesterol.
Sources of food high in cholesterol
High-cholesterol foods are often foods that are also high in saturated fats. These foods should be limited in a healthy diet.