Cholesterol

Cholesterol is a soft, waxy, fatlike substance found in all of your body's cells, including the brain, nerves, muscles, skin, liver, intestines, and heart. Your body needs it in order to work properly. It uses cholesterol to hold cells together and to make hormones, vitamin D, and substances that help you digest foods. However, if too much gets into your blood, it can cause problems. If you have too much cholesterol in your bloodstream, the excess may be deposited in arteries, including the coronary (heart) arteries, where it contributes to the narrowing and blockages that cause the signs and symptoms of heart disease.

Where Does It Come From?

Cholesterol comes from two places. Most of  cholesterol the body needs is made in the liver. The rest comes from the foods you eat.
Cholesterol is only made by animals, so you can only get it by eating animal products, such as
- Meat
- Chicken
- Fish
- Eggs
- Butter
- Cheese
- Whole milk.

Cholesterol Types
 
In order to get to your cells, cholesterol travels through the bloodstream. Cholesterol is a fat and it separates from the blood similar to the way that oil separates from water. To keep this from happening, proteins form a shell around the cholesterol, making a "cholesterol complex" called lipoproteins. It is then released into the bloodstream and travels to where it needs to go. Although there is only one type of cholesterol, there are several types of cholesterol complexes.

The three main types of cholesterol complexes used to transport cholesterol include:
 
- Low density lipoprotein (LDL) - considered as the "bad" cholesterol 
LDLs carry most of the cholesterol in the blood, and the cholesterol from LDL is the main source of damaging buildup and blockage in your arteries. Thus, the more LDL cholesterol you have in your blood, the greater your risk of heart disease. Reducing your LDL cholesterol is the main goal of cholesterol-lowering treatment.

- High density lipoprotein (HDL) - considered as “good" cholesterol
HDLs carry cholesterol in the blood from other parts of the body back to the liver, which leads to its removal from the body. In this way, HDL helps keep cholesterol from building up in the walls of the arteries.

- Very low density lipoprotein (VLDL)
VLDL has a lot of triglycerides along with cholesterol, and its main function is to transport triglycerides to the cells that need it.
Most of your body's fat is in the form of triglycerides stored in fat tissue. Only a small portion of your triglycerides is found in the bloodstream. High blood triglyceride levels alone do not necessarily cause atherosclerosis but some lipoproteins that are rich in triglycerides also contain cholesterol, which causes atherosclerosis in some people with high triglycerides.  Therefore, high triglycerides may be a sign of a lipoprotein problem that contributes to heart disease.

High and Low Cholesterol Causes

Several drugs and diseases can bring about high cholesterol, but, for most people, a high-fat diet and inherited risk factors may be the main causes.

1. Heredity: Your genes influence how high your “bad” cholesterol is by affecting how fast LDL is made and removed from the blood. One specific form of inherited high cholesterol is called familial hypercholesterolemia, which often leads to early heart disease.
2. Weight: Excess weight may increase your LDL cholesterol level. If you are overweight and have a high LDL cholesterol level, losing weight may help you lower it. Weight loss especially helps to lower triglycerides and raise HDL cholesterol levels.
3. Physical activity/exercise: Regular physical activity may lower triglycerides and raise HDL cholesterol levels.
4. Age and sex: Before menopause, women usually have lower total cholesterol levels than men of the same age. When they get older, their blood cholesterol levels rise until about 60-65 years of age. After age 50, women often have higher total cholesterol levels than men of the same age.
5. Alcohol use: Moderate (1-2 drinks daily) alcohol intake increases HDL cholesterol but does not lower LDL cholesterol. Drinking too much alcohol can damage the liver and heart muscle, lead to high blood pressure, and raise triglyceride levels. Because of the risks, alcoholic beverages should not be used as a way to prevent heart disease.
6. Mental stress: Several studies have shown that stress raises blood cholesterol levels over the long term. Stress may affect your habits, thus , for example, it may lead people to eating fatty foods. The saturated fat and cholesterol in these foods contribute to higher levels of blood cholesterol.

Healthy cholesterol levels

High cholesterol is usually discovered on routine screening and has no symptoms. It is more common if you have a family history of it, but lifestyle factors will clearly play a major role. If you have a routine blood test during a physical exam your blood may reveal a high total cholesterol level, which would require further testing to determine your LDL, HDL, and triglyceride levels.

- Total Cholesterol - Less than 200 mg/dL

- LDL - Less than 100 mg/dL, but will depend on the number of risk factors

- HDL - Greater than 40 mg/dL, but the higher the better. Less than 40 mg/dL is considered a major risk factor for heart disease.

- Triglycerides - Less than 150 mg/dL

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