What Is Cholesterol and Why Is It Dangerous?
Cholesterol is a chemical compound that your body needs to aid in the construction of cell membranes and hormones such as testosterone and estrogen. Most of the cholesterol (around 80%) in our body is produced by the liver and the remaining 20% comes from dietary sources such as eggs, dairy, meat, and fish. Plant-based foods do not contain cholesterol at all.
The liver is also responsible for regulating how much cholesterol flows through the blood. The cholesterol from dietary sources is absorbed by the body via the small intestine. It is then metabolized and stored in the liver. So, whenever the body requires it, the liver secretes it in calculated quantities.
However, it is possible for the body to receive too much cholesterol, as observed among people who consume excessive amounts of meat or dairy products. When this level of cholesterol goes up, it can accumulate in the form of plaque within the arteries. As a result, the arteries become narrow, eventually leading to disturbed or limited blood flow.
Types of Cholesterol
Cholesterol doesn’t flow through the blood on its own. It needs to attach itself to lipoproteins or fat-based proteins. Now, there are primarily two types of proteins, categorized on the basis of a protein to cholesterol ratio.
Firstly, we have LDL or Low-Density Lipoproteins, which contain more cholesterol than protein. Hence, LDL is often referred to as “bad cholesterol”. When LDL levels goes up, your body becomes susceptible to cardiac disease, stroke, and peripheral artery disease. This is because the LDL is what causes the buildup of plaque along the arteries of the walls.
As more plaque begins to build up, the arteries begin to narrow down, leading to a condition called atherosclerosis. The narrowing down of the arteries inhibits proper blood flow and causes the formation of blood clots. If these clots form in any of the coronary arteries, they can cause a myocardial infarction, also known as a ‘heart attack’.
Next, we have HDL or High-Density Lipoproteins, which have a ratio favoring protein over cholesterol. Hence, HDL is referred to as “good cholesterol”. The higher the HDL to LDL ratio, the better it is in terms of overall health. A high HDL level can protect you from strokes, heart diseases, and peripheral artery disease.
Now, there is something called Total Cholesterol, which is measured as the sum of LDL and HDL. If your overall cholesterol levels are higher than normal, you’re at risk for the above-mentioned conditions. It doesn’t matter how high your HDL is, a high LDL reading is still a threat.
How to Avoid Increased Cholesterol?
As we already know, dietary sources such as meat, poultry, and dairy contribute to the increases in overall cholesterol levels. So, the best solution is to drastically minimize the consumption of such foods. Your diet must prioritize plan-based nutrition. Meat and dairy products must be consumed in moderation to avoid the risk of high cholesterol.
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High cholesterol is a major risk factor when it comes to heart attack or stroke. It’s important to keep your cholesterol levels low with a healthy diet and exercise. If you feel as though you’re at risk of having high cholesterol, you should schedule an appointment at the Houston Cardiovascular Institute to learn more.