Cholesterol is a waxy substance present in our body and it’s produced from what we eat – mainly from fats and carbohydrates. Some people have the ability to make more cholesterol than others. But what is cholesterol? And does it have a function?
Like I said, cholesterol is a waxy substance. It helps the functions of our cells.
- It strengthens the wall of a cell.
- It helps the formation of bile, which is produced by the liver to properly digest fats.
- It helps the formation of vitamin D, which is being produced in the skin after sun exposure. And then cholesterol jumps in to help the formation of an active form vitamin D, that’s D3. Vitamin D is a very important vitamin and it helps several functions in our body.
- The fourth function of cholesterol is that it helps the formation of male and female sex hormones.
Cholesterol in general is not a harmful substance as some people might think. It has good and bad types. Generally speaking, cholesterol has two main types. HDL- that’s High Density Lipoprotein, and LDL – Low Density Lipoprotein. HDL has molecules that are big. And LDL has molecules that are small.
Let’s understand more of this by illustrating it on our model. Here: Cholesterol is integrated into the cell wall and appears here as these yellow balls. This is HDL, and it’s responsible for strengthening the cell wall. The other part – LDL – looks like this tiny Christmas tree with spikes. These spikes are bad. How? For illustration purposes let’s imagine this sock as a blood vessel. LDL molecules stick to the blood vessel’s wall and if it accumulates in large quantities it may cause arthrosclerosis – that’s hardening of the blood vessel wall, and thrombosis – that’s clots blocking the blood flow. However, HDL molecules (these big yellow balls), in spite of being so big, they have smooth edges, and they travel easily in the blood stream. HDL helps remove LDL from the blood vessel’s wall – that’s why we should increase HDL and decrease LDL. Have more of HDL and less of LDL.
If we undergo a blood cholesterol test, we will have three readings in our reports. You’ll find HDL, LDL, and total cholesterol (after adding HDL to LDL values). As a healthy person you must keep the LDL low and the HDL as high as possible within the normal ranges. Then see if the total cholesterol is elevated or not. This will affect your future health, especially your heart and blood vessels. If the total cholesterol is elevated you’re at higher risk of getting arthrosclerosis, heart disease and stroke at an older age.
As I mentioned before, the source of cholesterol is mainly fats. And there are good fats and bad fats. Good fats will produce useful cholesterol for you, and the bad ones will produce harmful cholesterol. How can we differentiate between the good and the bad ones? So, the good fats are: any liquid fats at room temperature or in the fridge, such as plant oils. All solid fats at room temperature or in the fridge are not good, contain LDL: Butter, hydrogenated fats or margarine. All these are not healthy because they form the harmful LDL.
If we want to lower our bad cholesterol and increase our good cholesterol, what should we do? First of, we should add liquid fats to our diet, like plant oils. Add them to your salad and avoid heating them. Also avoid using solid fats that are solid at room temperature or in the fridge.
There are medicals that we can use under medical supervision. There are also studies that show the benefits of omega-3, which is present in nuts and fish oils. Nuts and fish oil help in lowering the level of bad cholesterol, because they belong to the good cholesterol producing food groups.
Don’t forget to practise regular exercise, as this helps in getting rid of the bad cholesterol and maintains good cholesterol within the normal range.
I wish you good health!