Very important for the body, it performs different functions. But if it is in excess it can give problems.
What is it

Cholesterol is a lipid of the class of steroids (ie they have a characteristic chemical structure with five rings), very important for the body in which it performs several functions:

  • it is a fundamental component of cell membranes and thus becomes part of every body tissue;
  • it is part of the composition of the myelin sheath, important for nerve transmission;
  • it is used by our body for the synthesis of many other compounds, including vitamin D, male and female sex hormones and adrenocortical hormones;
  • It is a component of bile.

Where does it come from?

Contrary to what is often thought, only 10-20% of the cholesterol present in our blood comes from food, and in particular from the process of digestion of foods containing high amounts of lipids, especially fat of animal origin.

Most of the cholesterol is produced by our body, especially in the liver, but also in the intestines, adrenals and skin.

It is also true, however, that in patients severely affected by conditions such as overweight and obesity the percentage of cholesterol taken through nutrition can also be much higher, especially if their diet includes a high amount of foods rich in fat, red meat, sweets and the like.

Types of cholesterol

To get to the different districts in which cholesterol is used, it must be transported in the blood. This happens through its binding to lipoproteins.

Depending on the type of lipoprotein to which it attaches, cholesterol is referred to as c-HDL, c-LDL or c-VLDL.

High-density lipoproteins (hence HDL, high density lipoprotein), have the function of removing cholesterol from the tissues, and therefore also from the arteries, bringing it back to the liver. This is why HDL cholesterol is called good cholesterol.

LDL (low density lipoprotein) allows the transport of cholesterol from production sites to cells and tissues.

This type of cholesterol is called bad because LDL has a lot of affinity with the cells of the endothelium of the arteries and, therefore, can favor the deposit of cholesterol on the wall of the vessels, with the formation of atherosclerotic plaque.

The function of VLDL (very low density lipoprotein) cholesterol is not yet well understood.

The dangers if it is high

Both LDL and HDL are necessary: the former distribute cholesterol to the cells for use, the latter remove excess cholesterol by returning it to the liver to be eliminated.

The danger, therefore, is highlighted when we have elevated LDL cholesterol. Having high HDL allows you to reduce the amount of excess cholesterol and, therefore, is not dangerous at all.

If LDL cholesterol is too high, there is a risk that it will be deposited inside the arteries forming plaques that increase cardiovascular risk, hindering blood flow from peripheral blood vessels to the heart and bringing with it obvious physical symptoms, which may require ad hoc treatment.

It should also be said that a high concentration of cholesterol is a potential problem for everyone, but it is to a greater extent for those suffering from some particular condition, such as diabetes or cardiovascular disease, or who are physically out of shape.

How to keep it under control

Typically, our physique tries to adapt to what we eat. Therefore, if the cholesterol introduced with the diet increases, endogenous production is reduced.

Blood cholesterol can increase if there is a combination of factors such as a genetic predisposition, a diet high in fat and cholesterol, overweight or obesity, sedentary lifestyle.

Therefore, the first measures to be taken are to reduce overweight, if present, do regular physical exercise and follow a healthy diet with some precautions:

  • reduce total fatty acids, in particular, saturated fats (present in foods of animal origin such as milk and cheese, pork, eggs, cold cuts) and hydrogenated oils (margarines and products containing them, to be replaced with extra virgin olive oil or other foods of vegetable origin);
  • reduce the consumption of carbohydrates with a high glycemic index (sweets, candies, pastries, etc.), to be replaced with other products, in particular carbohydrates derived from whole grains or unrefined ones;
  • increase the consumption of vegetables, legumes and fruits (excluding figs, grapes, persimmons, bananas);
  • Drink plenty of water, which helps to purify the body and is a fundamental part of a balanced diet.

Along with these measures, we must not forget the importance of physical activity to have an organism always in shape. A little basic exercise can be enough to ward off many risk factors for your health, along with a healthy diet and a healthy lifestyle (e.g. eliminating smoking and alcohol, or paying attention to taking medication).

In this way you can keep your body healthy and, among other things, prevent an excess of cholesterol that could have unpleasant consequences and lead to heart, cardiovascular or other risks.

When to contact your doctor

If cholesterol levels remain high despite the measures described above, the “threshold” values beyond which we speak, with the lexicon of medicine, of hypercholesterolemia, are:

Total cholesterol > 200 mg/dl
LDL cholesterol > 100 mg/dl
HDL cholesterol < 50 mg/dl

Always keeping in mind that the higher the HDL cholesterol the less “damage” LDL cholesterol can do.

Consequently, those who are in the presence of a cholesterol level above the threshold should always contact their family doctor to ask for a diagnosis . The latter will obviously take into account the particular condition of the patient (e.g. age, condition of menopause or pregnancy, etc.) and will allow to understand the overall situation.

Doctors, then, may eventually look for the best therapy to lower cholesterol and thus bring the values back to normal, before risking developing a related pathological condition.

Joycelyn Elders is the author and creator of EmpowerEssence, a health and wellness blog. Elders is a respected public health advocate and pediatrician dedicated to promoting general health and well-being.

The blog covers a wide range of topics related to health and wellness, with articles organized into several categories.

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