Most of us know that cholesterol is something that should be monitored because it can affect our overall health. But not everyone remembers what a healthy range is meant to be, and many never really understood the different types.
Cholesterol is part of the way the human body is composed. It is synthesized primarily in the liver used to form the building blocks of the substances that compose cell membranes and certain hormones. It is integral to many bodily functions.
Lipids transport Cholesterol
It is just one of the waxy substances called lipids that are transported in the bloodstream. It must be carried out of the blood into the cells by specialized molecules called lipoproteins. Two of these are named the low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and the high-density lipoprotein (HDL), both of which transport cholesterol of low and high density, respectively.
LDL, also called bad cholesterol, carries most of the total cholesterol in the bloodstream, and it causes problems when the concentration is too large. It then can build up on arterial walls that lead to two vital organs, the heart, and the brain.
Together with other debris in the blood, it can form hard plaques that can block the arteries and slow or even stop the blood flow. This condition is called atherosclerosis. When a blockage occurs at the entry to the heart muscle, a heart attack results, and when the blood flow to the brain is interrupted, a stroke occurs.
Excreted through Liver
A level of LDL cholesterol over 160 mg/d of blood is a risk factor for the disease. The role of the HDL, or so-called good cholesterol, is to transport between one-third to one-fourth of total cholesterol out of the blood and to the liver where it is excreted from the body altogether.
A high HDL level seems to protect against heart attack, and an HDL level lower than 40 mg/dL in men and 50 mg/dL in women is seen as a risk factor for heart attack and stroke.
The body generally makes the necessary amount of cholesterol, so the amount consumed in food is usually in excess. The foods that contain the most cholesterol are egg yolks, meat, poultry, fish, seafood, and whole-milk dairy products, and their consumption should be limited by people who have high LDL counts.
Plant foods are Cholesterol-free
Plant foods do not contain cholesterol and need not be limited. Saturated fatty acids, as found in animal products, act to raise blood cholesterol levels, as do transfats that are found in bakery goods, crackers, and highly processed foods.
The liver does remove some of the excess cholesterol, but it is recommended that the average cholesterol intake should be less than 200 milligrams per day. Limiting the amount of dietary fat, especially saturated fat, is the key to consuming less cholesterol.
What does this mean in terms of general health? Individuals who maintain total blood cholesterol of less than 200 mg/dL are at low risk for heart attack and stroke, unless they have other risk factors, while those with levels between 200 to 239 mg/dL pose a borderline high risk.
Those with a total cholesterol level of 240 mg/dL and over are at high risk of heart disease and stroke and must take active measures to limit their dietary intake, and perhaps take medication as well. Triglyceride, another blood lipid should be maintained at a level of less than 200 mg/dL.
Yearly cholesterol monitoring is recommended for those in the higher ranges. While you’re here read our article on how to reduce cholesterol levels.