With all the news and warnings about the dangers of high cholesterol, many people view cholesterol as a ‘bad’ substance that should be eliminated completely from our lives. In truth, cholesterol serves some important functions in the body. In order to understand how cholesterol affects the body, one must first understand what cholesterol is.
Cholesterol is a waxy substance that is attached to the fats in our bloodstream and is present in all of the cells of the body. Cholesterol comes from food that we eat, as well as being manufactured directly by the liver. Cholesterol is an important regulator in the bloodstream, as it helps to regulate the formation of many cells as well as hormones. However, to have too high or too low of a cholesterol count in the blood can be a very dangerous factor, often leading to a heart attack or a stroke. Although cholesterol is prevalent in the blood stream, it cannot dissipate in the blood. The cholesterol maneuvers throughout the body attached to lipids (fats).
There are two main types of cholesterol. The first type is called LDL cholesterol, and the other is HDL cholesterol. LDL cholesterol, otherwise known as low-density lipoprotein, is considered the ‘dangerous’ cholesterol. LDL cholesterol can build up on the artery walls. Over time this plaque build-up blocks blood flow, reducing circulation and causing stress and damage to the heart. This raises blood pressure, and eventually leads to heart disease or a heart attack. Individuals that have higher levels of LDL run a much higher risk of having heart disease. Although LDL is affected by genetics, there are several precautions that individuals can take towards keeping safe LDL levels.
The other form of cholesterol is HDL, or high-density lipoprotein. HDL is considered the good cholesterol. HDL cholesterol is important for the body to have as this type of cholesterol helps filter out LDL cholesterol from the lining of the arteries, as well as transporting fat in the bloodstream (triglycerides) to the liver so that it can be excreted from the body. It is believed that even having high levels of HDL is safe, as it can help protect one’s heart from a heart attack or stroke. Low counts of HDL could potentially lead to a heart attack and stroke, however this is rare for people eating a western-style diet, which is typically high in both forms of cholesterol.
Most of the cholesterol in our bodies comes from the foods we eat. Foods high in fats, particularly saturated and trans fats, contribute to high levels of LDL cholesterol. Meat and dairy products are the main sources of LDL cholesterol, while leafy vegetables, fruits, and nuts are more nutritious alternatives that have higher levels of HDL cholesterol. While genetics does play a role in cholesterol levels, a change in diet is the most effective way to lower dangerous cholesterol levels, and reduce your risk of heart disease and associated health problems.
Certain natural substances found plant sterols, fish oils, and policosanol have been shown in numerous clinical studies to be highly effective in promoting healthy cholesterol levels, particularly when combined with a healthy diet and exercise. If you are concerned about your cholesterol levels, get active and avoid eating highly saturated fats!
Stay Healthy & Strong,
Steven Wong – CPT, Pn1, Dip SMB
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