Cholesterol is a fat molecule needed by all animal species, and by humans as well. This molecule is part of all cells, in both its membranes and in its structure, and is important because it allows for homogeneity inside and outside the cell. It is also key for cellular division and reproduction.
In addition, it acts as a base for the formation of steroid hormones produced by the endocrine glands. Examples of this are cortisone and sex hormones like testosterone and estrogen.
Assimilation within the body
In reality, all cells in the body possess the metabolic mechanism needed to manufacture cholesterol. However, the body prefers to obtain it through less demanding means like through a person’s diet.
Nonetheless, the human body cannot break down these molecules. In fact, the only way to eliminate them is through the bile in the liver.
Bile acids dissolve fats that are consumed in food so that our body can absorb them better.
On the other hand, there are certain cases in which cholesterol can cause health problems, usually when cholesterol levels surpass what is considered normal.
Because cholesterol travels through the blood, excess cholesterol is deposited on the walls of arteries, and over time they can be clogged partially or even completely. For this reason, if you clog the arteries that bring blood to the heart, a heart attack will occur, which may lead to death.
In conclusion, fat molecules can have both positive and negative effects on the body.
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Good and bad cholesterol?
As mentioned above, there is only one type of cholesterol molecule.
Cholesterol is found only in food of animal origin, for example: veal, pork, chicken, fish, lamb, shellfish, etc. The amount of cholesterol will depend on the type of food or meat.
However, the classification between good and bad cholesterol depends on its location and the density of the particles.
Cholesterol is a fat, and fats are wrapped in proteins and lipids in order to circulate through the blood. Cholesterol, proteins, and triglycerides are lodged in small areas called lipoproteins, and thus they travel through the blood.
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In fact, lipoproteins can be classified depending on the quantity of these substances:
- Very Low Density Lipoproteins (VLDL), i.e. with higher fat and triglycerides.
- Low Density Lipoproteins (LDL), rich in fat that carry three quarters of the cholesterol in the blood.
- High density Lipoproteins (HDL), rich in protein and cholesterol.
Bad cholesterol (LDL)
These particles, known as LDL, carry the highest proportion of cholesterol through the blood from the liver to bodily tissues. When there is excess cholesterol, it is deposited in the arteries and can cause health problems. This condition relates to high odds of having a heart attack. For this reason this type of lipoprotein is considered to be bad cholesterol.
Good cholesterol (HDL)
High-density lipoproteins (HDL) transfer cholesterol to the liver to remove it from the body. In other words, they favor the elimination of these molecules from the arterial wall. Possessing elevated levels is beneficial as it protects us from the disease. For this reason, it is considered as good cholesterol.
Symptoms of high cholesterol levels
Although our bodies produce certain warnings as a defense mechanism against problems, high cholesterol produces no symptoms, but works silently. In fact, you can have very high levels and not have any symptoms.
However, when problems with high cholesterol levels are in their late stages, there can be symptoms of arterial disease, heart attack, cerebral thrombosis, angina pectoris, difficulty moving and even speaking.
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How to lower bad cholesterol levels and raise good cholesterol
As we have seen, the body cannot function properly without cholesterol. However, having elevated levels of LDL molecules can be deadly as the years go by.
For this reason, Step to Health will share 7 ways to help you to decrease the high levels of LDL and increase the amount of HDL molecules.
1. Lifestyle changes
You can avoid cholesterol- related risks if you follow a healthy lifestyle, for example: a healthy diet low in saturated fats, physical activity, maintaining normal weight, not smoking, etc.
2. Include unsaturated fat in your diet
These healthy fats are found in foods such as olive oil, nuts, seed oils, fish (blue fish, sardines, salmon) and some legumes such as nuts or seeds.
3. Eat vegetable products
Foods of plant origin such as fruits, vegetables or legumes are extremely low in fat or contain unsaturated fat, and therefore have no cholesterol. In addition, vegetables contain important amounts of sterols, which help to reduce fat molecules levels in the blood.
In fact, it has been observed that a diet rich in vegetables has been associated with enjoying better health in general.
4. Maintain a healthy weight
It is important to maintain a healthy weight, since obesity is a factor that aggravates the impact of cholesterol on the body.
If you gain weight, it is very likely that your cholesterol levels will also increase.
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5. Exercise often
A sedentary life can trigger rising cholesterol levels. However, engaging in physical activity regularly can help lower bad cholesterol and increase good cholesterol.
6. Reduce alcohol consumption
It is well-known that excessive alcohol consumption can damage the heart and affect the liver. The liver, as noted at the beginning of this article, actively participates in the elimination of cholesterol. Therefore, keep the alcohol consumption at bay and drink in moderation.
7. Limit saturated fats
Foods such as eggs, dairy, butter, sausages, or meats are needed in a balanced diet. However, it is necessary to monitor their consumption and avoid those that contain trans fatty acids, since they increase the levels of fat molecules. This way you will also avoid ingesting products with high caloric value and rich in salt or sugars.
On the other hand, foods with abundant saturated fat, cholesterol or salt are completely unadvisable. These include pastries, fried foods, chocolates and soft drinks.
As you can see, cholesterol is of paramount importance for human development and is fundamental to maintaining balance. Are you ready to lead a healthy life?