Cholesterol: The Basics
What is it?
Cholesterol is a white waxy substance, of which 80% is produced by the liver. The other 20% comes from your diet (it is found in foods of animal origin). Cholesterol is a normal component of the blood and is part of your cells. It is present everywhere in the body, including the brain, nerves, muscles, skin, liver, intestines and heart. The body also uses it to produce hormones such as testosterone and estrogen. Cholesterol is needed in order for our bodies to function. It is only when you have too much cholesterol (LDL) that it becomes a problem. When you have too much cholesterol in your bloodstream, the extra amount is deposited in the arteries (i.e. the coronary arteries) where it contributes to narrowing and blockages, causing signs and symptoms of heart disease.
What are LDLs & HDLs?
Cholesterol will not mix with the blood, so it is wrapped in protein to be carried in the blood. The packages are called “Lipoproteins”. Lipoproteins play the role of transport trucks. They carry the cholesterol and other fats across approximately 260,000 kilometers of blood vessels, arteries and capillaries to be used, stored or excreted. There are several types of lipoproteins, the two most important ones to monitor heart health are:
• LDL (Low Density Lipoproteins) these proteins carry cholesterol to all parts of the body. It is often called the “bad cholesterol” because when present in excess, it may deposit on the artery walls causing a buildup of plaque that obstructs blood flow. Less LDL is better! The ideal level is less than 2.6 mmols/liter.
• HDL (High Density Lipoproteins): these proteins carry the LDL back to the liver to be broken down and released into the intestine to be expelled from the body. It may also help to remove cholesterol already deposited in the arterial walls. More HDL is better! The ideal level for men is ≥ 1 mmol/L, and for women it is ≥ 1.3 mmol/L.
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