maintaining healthy blood cholesterol level

While a lot of people continue to vilify and misconstrue the role cholesterol plays in their overall health and simply associate it with fatty foods, there is however more than meets the eye about cholesterol. Most cholesterol for starters, is produced by the liver itself (about 75%) while the remaining (just 25%) come from your diet. At normal levels, cholesterols perform very significant roles in assisting body cells carry out their functions optimally.

Recent research data show the saddening facts that more than half of people in western cultures have a cholesterol level that puts them at risk of developing atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is a disease in which cholesterol builds up in the arterial walls and forms bulky plaques that hamper the flow of blood until a clot eventually develops that obstructs an artery and leads to a heart attack or stroke.

Atherosclerosis plaques are however caused by the accumulation of a particular "bad" cholesterol known as the low-density lipoprotein (LDL) that circulates in the bloodstream. Luckily, HDL cholesterol counteracts the effect of LDL cholesterol by extracting the accumulated plaques in the arteries and moving same to the liver for removal from the body. This is why HDL cholesterols are referred to as the "good" cholesterol.

Also, going by their names, Low-Density Lipoproteins (LDL), the "bad" cholesterol, consist mostly of cholesterol while High-Density Lipoproteins (HDL), the "good" cholesterol, contains more protein and less cholesterol. Thus LDLs are lower in their protein content but high in cholesterol while HDLs have higher amounts of protein than cholesterol. This is why as HDLs move through the bloodstream, they pick up cholesterols and gives the cholesterol to other lipoproteins to transport back to the liver.

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Therefore it becomes important to understand that actually not all cholesterols are bad for your health as cholesterol actually play very important functions in the body. For instance, cholesterol, which is a waxy, fat-like compound, occurs naturally throughout the body including your heart itself, the brain, skin, intestines, nerves, and muscles. Cholesterol forms the structure of cell membranes; is used for the production of Vitamin D and hormones such as estrogen and testosterone, and bile acids for digestion, and is also essential for building and repairing of body cells. With that said, the body however just needs a small amount of cholesterol to function properly.

So, why do some people have high cholesterol? There are basically two factors that significantly influence high levels of LDL "bad" cholesterol in the bloodstream and these are an individual’s genetic makeup and his or her lifestyle choices or a combination of both.

Dietary Influence on Cholesterol Level

While lifestyle factors such as obesity, smoking, and physical inactivity can cause or contribute to high cholesterol levels, a high-fat diet however plays a more significant role.

A high average intake of cholesterol through too much saturated and trans fatty acids in our diet raises the level of LDL "bad" cholesterol as several research have shown that the amount and type of fat consumed has the biggest external influence on cholesterol levels. Although saturated fats increase total cholesterol levels of both the "good" and the "bad" cholesterols, trans fatty acids on the other hand raises the "bad" LDL cholesterol while lowering the "good" cholesterol.

Luckily, the consumption of a healthy and balanced diet that has a good amount of essential oils such as Omega-3s from oily fish and "extra virgin" olive oils can help increase the levels of HDL "good" cholesterol. The idea therefore is to increase "good" HDL cholesterol level in order to reduce the "bad" LDL cholesterol through your diet.

Genetic Influence on Cholesterol Level

Conversely, while diet is something that can be controlled more easily, the cholesterol production level of the liver has more to do with genetics and thus requires a different approach. Heredity may cause some people to possess cells that do not remove LDL cholesterol from the blood effectively, or have a liver that produces too much cholesterol in form of "very low-density lipoprotein" (VLDL) cholesterol (which is eventually turned into low-density lipoprotein – LDL) or too little HDL cholesterol.

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Research indicate that specialized proteins, known as LDL receptors, which project from the surface of animal cells, bind themselves to LDL particles and extracts them from the fluid surrounding the cells. The LDL is absorbed by the cell and broken down to yield its cholesterol which the cell uses accordingly. Thus LDL receptors help in the removal of LDL form the bloodstream.

The production and amount of LDL receptors displayed on a cell’s surface is determined by the cell’s demand for cholesterol. Thus, when the demand is low, such as when there is a high intake of cholesterol in diet, the cell makes fewer LDL receptors to protect itself against excess cholesterol and therefore reduces its uptake of LDLs. This protective mechanism however causes an accumulation of excess cholesterol in the blood.

The liver takes up and degrades more cholesterol than any other organ in the body owing to its large size and possession of a high concentration of LDL receptors. Caution must have however be taken because even modest accumulation of cholesterol in the liver through high intake of cholesterol in diet would partially suppress the production of LDL receptors.

Given these reasons for constraint especially the acknowledgement of the fact that high cholesterol level is detrimental to health and leads to atherosclerosis, it therefore becomes important to make diet and healthy lifestyle changes in order to lower cholesterol levels and thus reduce the risk of heart disease or stroke.