The moment we hear the word "cholesterol" most of us assume it to be a bad thing which is not completely true. It is important that we know what cholesterol is or whether it is important for our body so that we can make an informed decision about our health.
What is cholesterol ?
Chemically speaking cholesterol is a lipid and most of it is produced by the liver from the fatty foods we eat. Cholesterol is vital for the normal functioning of our body. It is an important part of the cell membrane , which is the outermost layer of any cell in our body.
It is also needed in the body to act as an insulator for the nerve fibres, making hormones such as sex hormones and steroid hormones and bile acids which are essential for digestion and absorption of fats. Although cholesterol plays an important role in the normal functioning of your body, high levels of it can be dangerous for your heart.
As cholesterol is a lipid, a fat like substance, it does not dissolve in water or blood thus it cannot travel around in the body on its own. Lipoproteins are molecules that act as carriers and take them around in your body through the blood. These lipoproteins are of two types - low density lipoprotein or LDL and high density lipoprotein or HDL. Now one of these is known as the good cholesterol while the other one is referred to as the bad cholesterol.
Good vs. Bad Cholesterol
LDL is the main transporter that carries cholesterol from your liver to the cells that need it. When there is an excess of cholesterol in your blood it results in a harmful build-up in your blood. This build-up in the walls of the arteries can increase your risk of having a heart disease or a stroke. This is why LDL is the bad cholesterol.
HDL on the other hand is the good cholesterol that keeps your body clean. It carries cholesterol away from the cells to the liver where it is either broken down or passed from the body as a waste product. The higher the levels of HDL the better it is for your body.
Knowing your cholesterol level is very important so that you can take adequate amount of preventive measures specially if you are in your middle age. The amount of cholesterol in the blood can be measured with the help of a blood test that will give you details of cholesterol level as well as HDL and LDL present in your blood. Ideally the level of cholesterol in your body should be 200 mg/dL or below whereas the ideal amount of LDL in your blood should be below 129 mg/dL and HDL should be above 60 mg/dL. Anything above these levels should put you in alert so that you keep a keen watch on your cholesterol levels and bring them back to normal.
Common Cholesterol Myths
Cholesterol carries a lot of negative image around it and there are many misconceptions surround it such as:
- Cholesterol is a fat - Cholesterol is not actually a fat, it is a waxy fat-like substance. It means that consuming food high in cholesterol would not make you put on weight. But it is dangerous because it can put you at a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
- Cholesterol is a killer- Cholesterol on its own cannot be considered as a killer because it is a crucial part of our cell membranes, acts as a protective covering for our nerves and also important for making sex hormones. It is as necessary in our body as any other nutrients but too much of it in the wrong place can surely make it a killer.
- The Cholesterol in your blood comes from your diet- Contrary to the perception two-thirds of cholesterol are actually produced by your liver while only a third of it comes from your diet. This is one of the main reasons why even strict vegetarians have cholesterol in their body.
- Dietary cholesterol boosts blood cholesterol levels- The saturated and trans fats in your diet incite the liver into making excess cholesterol so indirectly it can be said that the cholesterol in your diet boost blood cholesterol levels.
- Some cholesterol is good, some bad- All cholesterol molecules are exactly the same it is the carrier of these cholesterol that makes them good or bad. LDL is the bad cholesterol as excess of it builds-up into the arteries causing blockage. But HDL is the good one as it carries the cholesterol away from blockages to the liver so it can be broken down and passed out of your body.