Nearly all of you have heard the word “cholesterol” while going about your daily lives and pretty much all of you have heard about the dangers of “high cholesterol”. But how many of you actually know what is cholesterol and how does it affect your body?
Cholesterol is a waxy substance present in our blood and cells. It travels in the blood in packets called lipoproteins. Despite what we hear, cholesterol isn’t actually bad. Our bodies use cholesterol to build up cells, make hormones, vitamin D, and digestive fluids. Cholesterol also helps organs function smoothly. However, cholesterol becomes harmful when we have too much of it, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves right now.
Cholesterol mainly comes from two sources. First of all, liver performs its duties and produces cholesterol. The second source is the food we eat that comes from animals, meaning meat and dairy products contain cholesterol. These same products are also high in trans and saturated fats; these same fats cause our liver to produce more cholesterol. Hence, eating food from animals adds to our cholesterol in a two-fold manner. Other food items adding more cholesterol content include tropical oils, such as coconut oil. All these options are healthy alternatives to meet body’s daily requirements.
As we mentioned before, not all cholesterol is bad. Primarily cholesterol comes in two forms, lowdensity lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL). While HDL is healthy and good for your body, LDL is not. HDL gets rid of the excess cholesterol in our body by transporting it out of our arteries and into our liver. LDL, on the other hand, builds up in our arteries and could eventually form plaques which are fatty deposits. A high amount of LDL can lead to a variety of problems such as artery damage and heart disease.
Now that we have a fair idea of what is cholesterol and how does it affect your body, here is more information you should pay attention to.
How does cholesterol affect the body?
A high amount of LDL cholesterol can have adverse effects on your health. An excess of cholesterol can block a blood vessel to the brain and cause a stroke, as mentioned before. Moreover, cholesterol buildup can block arteries to your brain which can also increase your risk for a stroke. To break it down more specifically, however, we’ve made a list for you.
1. Cholesterol Effect On The Heart
Too much LDL cholesterol can clog arteries which stiffens them, a process known as atherosclerosis. This could be harmful to your health because blood doesn’t flow well through hardened arteries meaning that the heart has to work harder to pump blood. This puts more pressure on the heart and could be very harmful to your health.
LDL cholesterol also leads to the formation of plaque, the fatty substance we mentioned before. The buildup of plaque thickens artery walls which then narrows the opening of the arteries and reduces the amount of blood flow and the supply of oxygen to the cells of your heart. It can also affect oxygen-flow to cells in other organs such as your legs, arms, and intestines. This condition is known as peripheral arterial disease (PAD).
In addition, plaque also leads to Angina. Angina is a type of chest pain that is associated with heart and coronary artery diseases. It’s pain or discomfort in the chest that occurs due to temporary disruption in blood flow. To make matters worse, plaque can also lead directly to a heart attack or a stroke. If a piece of plaque breaks away from a deposit, it can form a clot or narrow down an artery to the point where blood can no longer flow to your heart – thus, causing a heart attack. If the same thing occurs within the arteries leading to the brain, you can suffer from a stroke.
2. Cholesterol Effect On Hormones
All effects of cholesterol aren’t negative. As we mentioned before, good cholesterol is also present in the body that performs myriads of functions. One of them is the production of hormones. HDL cholesterol is used to make hormones such as estrogen, testosterone, and cortisol. These hormones are vital for our bodies to function normally. They regulate most things within our body, from energy production to emotions. Your responsibility is to know what is a healthy cholesterol level in order to keep the body in good condition.
In turn, hormones also affect the amount of cholesterol our bodies make. For example, research has proven that as a woman’s estrogen levels rise during her menstrual cycle, HDL cholesterol also increases. However, hormones can also lead to an increased amount of LDL cholesterol in our system. Low levels of the thyroid hormone lead to a condition called hypothyroidism that increases the amount of LDL cholesterol within our body. On the other hand, a high amount of the thyroid hormone is a condition known as hyperthyroidism and it decreases the amount of LDL cholesterol we have in our body.
3. Cholesterol Effect On Nerves
Our brains contain roughly 25% of our body’s cholesterol. While this may be alarming given all that we have said about cholesterol, it is nothing to worry about. Our brain needs this much cholesterol in order to function properly. The cholesterol aids the production and protection of nerve cells and allows the brain to communicate with the rest of the organs in the body.
However, an excess of cholesterol may disrupt blood flow to the brain and cause strokes. Strokes can then lead to plenty of problems such as memory loss, loss of movement in the body, and speech impairment. In addition, cholesterol on its own is detrimental to our nerves. High cholesterol has been linked to both memory loss as well as Alzheimer’s disease.
Now that we know what is cholesterol and how does it affect your body, it’s easy to tell that we should work hard to keep our cholesterol levels down. Luckily, we don’t have to resort to extreme measures such as cutting meat and dairy out of our diet unless our cholesterol gets out of hand. Just make sure to check your cholesterol level regularly. Keep in mind that high cholesterol doesn’t usually show visible symptoms until they become severe.