What You Should Know About Cholesterol
Research form the Heart Foundation suggests that 32 percent of adults have high blood cholesterol. High blood cholesterol is a major cause of a process known as atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is hardening and narrowing of the arteries which progressively and slowly blocks arteries putting blood flow at risk. The result can be heart attacks, strokes, and peripheral vascular disease, collectively known as cardiovascular disease. So this same research would be correct in telling us that high blood cholesterol can put you at greater risk of developing cardiovascular disease, our biggest killer alongside cancer.
It’s important to know that cholesterol is essential for many of the body’s metabolic processes. Cholesterol is a type of fat that is carried around in the blood. It is a major building block for cellular membranes and is used in the production of hormones including oestrogen and testosterone and adrenal hormones such as cortisol. Additionally cholesterol is important for bile acids synthesis which aids in the digestion of fats and helps your body to absorb nutrients. Vitamin D synthesis is also dependant on healthy cholesterol levels.
Although cholesterol plays many key roles in the body it is not essential that you eat foods that contain cholesterol. Almost all of the cells of the body can make the cholesterol they need provided they are functioning and have the nutrients to do so. The liver, however, is especially efficient in cholesterol synthesis.
Cholesterol synthesis is tightly controlled by regulating the amount of cholesterol in the blood and producing more when your diet doesn’t provide adequate amounts. The liver removes cholesterol from the body by converting it to bile salts and putting it into the bile where it can be eliminated in the feces. The liver is also responsible for synthesising various lipoproteins involved in transporting cholesterol and lipids throughout the body. The liver packages cholesterol and other fats into minuscule protein-covered particles called lipoproteins (lipid + protein) that do mix easily with blood. The proteins used are known as apolipoproteins. The two types of lipoproteins often referred to as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ cholesterol are low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and high-density lipoproteins (HDL).
Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol carries most of the cholesterol that is delivered to cells where they are used in membranes and synthesis of steroid hormones, which doesn’t sound all ‘bad’. It is referred to as the ‘bad’ cholesterol because when levels in the bloodstream are too high, it can leave cholesterol deposits in the arteries and lead to atherosclerosis.
High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol is often referred to as the ‘good’ cholesterol, because it helps remove excess cholesterol out of the tissues, including cells in the arteries, carrying cholesterol to the liver where it can be broken down and excreted.
Understanding the role of cholesterol and how your body produces it and uses it helps us to make sense of maintaining healthy blood cholesterol levels. Your blood cholesterol level is determined by the sum of how much cholesterol your body makes and how much you take in from food, taking away how much your body uses for metabolic processes or excretes as waste products. High cholesterol can result from a problem in any of the variables in that equation. Knowing how cholesterol is made in the body, excreted and absorbed from food is the foundation for understanding the right eating plan for you.
Achieving and maintaining healthy cholesterol levels is achievable with the right dietary and lifestyle recommendations. Generally moving towards a healthy lifestyle of Mediterranean style diet rich in essential nutrient and antioxidants will support cardiovascular health. This includes reducing saturated fats by choosing lean meats, eliminating trans-fats found in fried foods and baked goods as well as avoiding refined carbohydrates and processed foods.
Research has shown polymethoxyflavones, known as PMFs, to assist in maintaining healthy cholesterol levels. These natural compounds are found in citrus peel and may lower LDL levels by reducing their synthesis and increasing their clearance. This is one of the many researched nutrients effective for balancing and maintaining cholesterol levels. If you need support in maintaining healthy cholesterol levels or have questions about which supplements may benefit you, talk to a health care professional that has access to the latest cholesterol research and information on cardiovascular health and disease prevention.