This is why cholesterol isn’t as bad as you thought

Posted by Barsha Dey

importance of cholesterol

Cholesterol has a bad reputation, thanks to its well-known role in promoting heart disorders. But that’s just half of the story. To fully understand cholesterol, you need to realize that it’s also vital to your health and well-being. Thus, the importance of cholesterol in the human body is paramount.

If you had no cholesterol in your body you would be dead. No cells, no bone structure, no muscles, no hormones, no reproductive system, no digestion, no brain function, no memory, no movement, no human life – nothing without cholesterol. Thus, cholesterol is utterly vital and we die instantly without it.

What is Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a waxy substance which the blood carries around the body. It is a type of lipid molecule. Our body produces 80% of its required cholesterol. The remaining 20%  comes from our diet.

The liver synthesizes cholesterol for export to other cells, but it also removes cholesterol from the body. Cholesterol is essential for maintaining good health and only becomes a problem when the level in the blood is too high. Thus, the body maintains its cholesterol levels with the help of molecules called lipoproteins. Low density lipoproteins or LDL and high density lipoproteins or HDL maintain cholesterol levels in the blood.

But, what are HDL and LDL cholesterol?

We often refer to HDL and LDL as the “good” cholesterol and “bad” cholesterol respectively.  However, they are not inherently cholesterol molecules but are the “carriers” of cholesterol molecules across your blood.

LDL (low-density lipoproteins) delivers cholesterol to different cells of the body. Excess cholesterol is transferred from the cells to the liver by HDL (high-density lipoproteins). Lipoproteins are a group of soluble proteins that help in the transportation of cholesterol and other lipid molecules present in the blood plasma.

The function of LDL is to transfer cholesterol to different cells, where it is used in membranes, or for the synthesis of steroid hormones. LDL is called “bad” cholesterol. This is because it delivers cholesterol to tissues and is strongly associated with the build-up of artery-clogging plaque.

The liver and small intestine synthesize and secrete HDL. It travels across the blood plasma where it gathers cholesterol to form mature HDL. They then returns the excess cholesterol to the liver via various pathways. Subsequently, the liver converts the excess blood cholesterol into bile salts and eliminates it from the body.

Illustration of cholesterol molecules in blood

You can calculate total cholesterol by taking into account the levels of HDL, LDL and triglycerides present in your blood. Doctors associate a higher total blood cholesterol level with increased risk of cardiovascular disorders. However, there are several other factors that contribute to this risk.

To calculate your cholesterol ratio, divide your total cholesterol number by your HDL cholesterol number. Thus, if your total cholesterol is 220 mg/dL (5.72 mmol/L) and your HDL is 60 mg/dL (1.56 mmol/L), your ratio would be 4-to-1. Higher ratios mean a higher risk of heart disease.

To learn more about the importance of cholesterol with respect to the risk of heart disorders, click here!

Why is Cholesterol Important For You?

Cholesterol is important for maintaining different biochemical processes of our body. This includes:

Helps in Hormone Production

Cholesterol plays a vital role in the secretion of several vital enzymes and hormones including aldosterone, cortisol, estrogen, cortisone, progesterone, testosterone and ubiquinone.

Enables Digestion

Cholesterol assists the liver in manufacturing bile acids. Bile acids are essential for digestion and absorption of fats. It also assists in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E and vitamin K.

gut-health-Yellowsquash

Aids in Vitamin D Production

Cholesterol is involved in vitamin D synthesis. Vitamin D supports several body functions. Vitamin D helps us absorb calcium from food. About 99% of the calcium in our bodies is present in our bones and teeth. Therefore, calcium is important for maintaining bone health.

Maintains Brain Function

Cholesterol helps in the formation of the myelin sheath, a neuron consisting of fat-containing cells. This ensures proper functioning of our brains by aiding in the conduction of electrical impulses. Thus, the absence of cholesterol may lead to loss of memory and difficulty in focusing.

brain-health

Ensures Cellular Stability

Cholesterol interconnects lipid molecules, which helps in stabilizing our cell membranes by providing stiffness and stability. Moreover, it also ensures our cells can communicate effectively with each other thus maintaining cellular stability. 

It is present in animal-based foods like meats, egg yolks, seafood, butter as well as other dairy products. Plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables and grains do not have any cholesterol. No specific recommended limits are there for cholesterol. Hence, you should keep your body’s cholesterol levels in a healthy range and limit the amount of harmful saturated fats, trans fats, and added sugars in your diet.

To know about saturated fats click here!

Thus, now you know cholesterol is good for our health and moreover is extremely important for maintaining several crucial body functions.

 

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