What is the importance of checking cholesterol level?
Posted on December 17th, 2012

Dr Hector Perera       London

Cholesterol is a waxy substance found naturally in the blood. It is mainly produced in the liver however we also absorb cholesterol from foods such as red meat, high fat cheese, butter, and eggs. Cholesterol is essential for good health and only becomes a problem when the level in your blood is too high – a high cholesterol level increases the risk of heart disease. Following a healthy diet and lifestyle can help to lower blood cholesterol which is a risk factor in the development of heart disease. If you’ve discovered your cholesterol is higher than it should be, your doctor will advise you on how best to tackle it. If you’re looking to lower cholesterol through a healthy diet then you’ve come to the right place to read about it.

Benefits of Cholesterol:

While too much is bad, there are still some benefits of Cholesterol. High cholesterol has been linked to causing heart disease, but are there any benefits of cholesterol? News stories about cholesterol may lead you to believe that all cholesterol is bad. The truth is that cholesterol is essential for good health. In fact, your body makes cholesterol in order to carry out important bodily functions.

A few more uses of cholesterol

The brain represents only 2% of the body’s total mass, but contains 25% of the total cholesterol. Cholesterol is required everywhere in the brain as an antioxidant, an electrical insulator (in order to prevent ion leakage), as a structural scaffold for the neural network, and a functional component of all membranes. Cholesterol is also utilized in the wrapping and synaptic delivery of the neurotransmitters. It also plays an important role in the formation and functioning of synapses in the brain.

Everyone becomes forgetful from time to time forgetting where you placed the car keys, not remembering to pick up an item at the grocery store, forgetting to return a friend’s phone call etc. And as we age, most of us become increasingly forgetful. At least half of those over age 65 say that they are more forgetful than they were when they were younger, experiencing “senior moments” about things like where they put things or recalling somebody’s name. But when does an ordinary memory lapse indicate something more serious, like early AD or Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia?

They point to several studies that show a lack of cholesterol present in the brains of AD patients which is so vital for several functions, and also note that other studies show this cholesterol deficiency in dementia and Parkinson’s disease. In contrast, high cholesterol levels are positively correlated with longevity in people over 85 years old, and in some cases has been shown to be associated with better memory function and reduced dementia.

How the Body Produces & Uses Cholesterol

Contrary to what you may have heard nearly 80% of the cholesterol in your blood stream is made by your own body while the other 20% comes mainly from the food you eat.

Your liver is the primary organ responsible for the production of cholesterol in your body, although a small amount is made by the lining of the small intestine and the individual cells of the body.

How it is produced

Whenever possible (i.e., for about 8 hours after a meal), the liver takes up dietary cholesterol and triglycerides from the bloodstream. During times when dietary lipids are not available, the liver produces cholesterol and triglycerides itself.” If the liver produces more cholesterol than the intestines absorb, there will be excess cholesterol in the blood.

Again, let me write that cholesterol is a soft, waxy, fatty compound that is a type of steroid. It is an important nutrient that is essential in the formation and maintenance of cell membranes, and in the production of the sex hormones progesterone, testosterone, estradiol and cortisol which plays an important role in glycogenolysis that is the breaking down of glycogen to glucose to glucose-1-phosphate and glucose, in liver and muscle tissues. Cholesterol is also used by the body to produce bile salts that are used in the digestive process to break down food. Its last major task is its conversion into vitamin D when the skin is exposed to sunlight.

Because cholesterol is not soluble in water and tends to not mix well with blood the liver packages it with protein and other compounds creating a lipoprotein before it is released into the blood stream. Cholesterol is then transported through the bloodstream in this lipoprotein.  Lipoproteins are molecules made of proteins and fat. They carry cholesterol and similar substances through the blood. The proteins serve to emulsify the lipid (otherwise called fat) molecules. If you put water to any fat they are insoluble but you can disperse the fat into smaller particles that means if you shake fat and water together, that is called emulsification. In a similar way, fat is insoluble in blood but fat made into dispersing into smaller particles by proteins then they are called lipoproteins.

There are three types of lipoproteins created by the liver and these include high-density lipoproteins (HDL), low-density lipoproteins (LDL), and very low-density lipoproteins (VLDL). The type of lipoprotein is determined by how much protein there is in relation to fat content.

This so called “bad” cholesterol, LDL comprises about 70% of the cholesterol that circulates in the bloodstream. It is comprised mostly of fat which then tends to get deposited in the arteries creating plaques. We know any oil is less dense than water that is why oil floats on water. In LDL the fat content is more so this kind of lipoproteins comes to the surface and runs in the blood, no wonder it is likely to stick to the sides of some arteries. Not that LDL always clogs the arteries but sometimes it is possible, fortunately the other kind of lipoproteins HDL flush the LDL from the side of the clogged arteries then brings them back to the liver. If LDL clogs then it leads to atherosclerosis, which is a hardening and narrowing of the arteries and a large risk factor for heart disease.

HDL cholesterol is considered the “good” cholesterol because its primary role is to transport LDL’s back to the liver where it is disposed of. HDL is comprised of mainly protein and makes up about 20% of the cholesterol in the body. It helps prevent atherosclerosis by preventing LDL cholesterol from depositing and forming plaques in the arteries.

Checking cholesterol levels

The best way to control high cholesterol level is through lifestyle changes centred on diet, maintaining your proper weight, exercise, and stopping smoking if you smoke.

Now that you know where cholesterol is produced in the body you can see that it is an important part of proper bodily functions. It is also important to know that too much cholesterol is not good either and it is up to you to have your levels checked regularly and keep them under control. Most of the people are far too busy to visit a doctor or a nurse to check the blood and see the cholesterol and also sugar levels. Usually the medical advice is to check the blood every 4 to 6 months for people with some medical conditions.

Cholesterol levels among US adults today are generally higher than in all other industrial nations. During the 1990s there was some concern about cholesterol levels in American children. According to the CDC (Centres for Disease Control and Prevention), nearly 1 in every 10 children/adolescents in the USA has elevated total cholesterol levels; and this was after concentrations had dropped over a 20-year period.

Let’s be practical

I am sure some of you are already feeling too much to hear these medical, biological jargon but they are useful to know. If these terms are in medical terms only but not quite simplified even to be understood by majority of the people, you might just ignore that is why I made it a more simple explanation, some more to come but let’s see the practical side.

Now it’s the season to visit some friends and families here and abroad. Most of the people celebrate Christmas and New Year. Once they get together they eat the so called tasty good food and sometimes drink alcoholic drinks. Over in UK they mainly eat turkey during this season along with regular meat products such as pork, bacon, beef, lamb and chicken. Most of the times some meats such as lamb, beef and pork are given at half prices so the people are so tempted to over eat these cholesterol full red meat. Sometimes the fruits and vegetables are just lying on the shelves where as meat products go flying.

The supermarkets sell goods to make profit and shows the customers they are doing in good nature actually make the customers spend spend too much on food, drinks, clothes, perfumes, decorations and on many gifts. Virtually there is a supermarket war to attract more and more customers to make huge profits by various tactics.  The people forget about their health and medical conditions and keep on eating, drinking and sometimes smoking, I can say this is quite normal anywhere. As someone said, if one doesn’t have shelf discipline no one cannot help. One needs to be thoughtful and careful about what you eat and drink and how much one must eat and drink. Any comments please [email protected]

One Response to “What is the importance of checking cholesterol level?”

  1. Fran Diaz Says:

    Our many thanks to Dr Perera for de-mystifying Cholesterol.

    Yes, indeed, clever advertising will remove ‘shelf discipline’ and to our dismay lead to disease after over indulgence. A balanced diet throughout the year is a wise move for older folk. Some sort of liver cleaning herb such as Milk Thistle (in the west) helps after over indulging in food at any festivities, and our local ‘kassayas’ will also help keep the body cleansed of bad fats etc. The fat busting enzyme, Bromelain (found naturally in Pineapple), is also helpful. The Papaine enzyme (found in Papaw fruit) as a protein digestive.

    It would be wise to bear in mind that the digestive system has its own laws, and is not a ‘slave’ to our whims and fancies. Tough to think that way, but its a good way to avoid suffering later.

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