15 Sep Cholesterol
What exactly is cholesterol? And why is everybody always wah-wah-wah-ing about it?
Here’s the deal: Cholesterol is a waxy substance produced by the liver. It is actually needed in the body to make vitamin D, build cell walls, produce some hormones and create “bile salts” (yes sounds gross, but they’re not, they actually help you digest fat).
Your liver actually produces about 1000 milligrams of cholesterol a day. If you never ate another food with cholesterol in it (anything made from animals), you would have plenty of cholesterol to keep your body moving and shaking.
So what’s the deal? So far cholesterol seems good, right? You need it. But, cholesterol can’t move through the bloodstream on its own. So it has to hop on board a carrier. In your awesome and amazing body that means it combines with proteins to make a “lipoprotein.”
You have two different types of lipoproteins in your body: High-Density Lipoproteins (HDL’s) and Low-Density Lipoproteins (LDL’s). People often refer to LDL’s as “bad cholesterol” because this type of lipoprotein clogs your blood vessels and, as such, it increases your risk of having a heart attack or stroke. Both really bad.
HDL’s are usually referred to as “good cholesterol” because they are the opposite of LDL’s – they actually help remove cholesterol from the blood vessels and carry it back to the liver (where it is processed). Exercise is known to increase the amount of HDL’s in your body. One more reason to get out there and sweat!
Cholesterol is really two people – HDL and LDL, Harry and Larry. Twins, in fact. They may look a lot alike, but Harry is really supportive and fab and has lots of friends, while Larry gets into a bit of trouble and needs Harry to bail him out.
Ok, a little dramatic maybe, but hang tight.
Working together, Harry and Larry are pretty special dudes. They travel throughout our bloodstream and repair damages (nicks and tears) in our cell walls and arteries. That sounds great until Larry hangs out a little too long and causes trouble.
Like an irritating Uncle who stays too long at the family picnic, Larry can linger far too long on the cell walls, building larger and larger deposits of himself. Guess what that causes? A blockage in the artery, which leads to a heart attack because blood can’t flow past Larry.
Harry is supposed to look after his twin so that when Larry gets into trouble by hanging out too much and causing damage, Harry will carry Larry away to the liver for elimination.
As you can see, having a lot of Harry around is good for us. Decreasing those Larry’s in our bloodstream is important. So, keep the following risk factors in mind….
What causes high cholesterol? Some risk factors are:
- Being overweight.
- Your genetics – if high cholesterol and heart disease run in your family, you are at higher risk for both.
- Your diet– no surprise there, right? After all, you are reading about nutrition! Animal-based products like dairy (eggs), beef, shellfish, turkey, and chicken contain cholesterol and may increase your cholesterol levels. Plant products NEVER contain cholesterol.
- Your age: the older you get, the higher your cholesterol tends to be.
Want to avoid foods with cholesterol and added sugars? Start to read your label, look at your drink choices and follow some healthy tips… all topics that you can find under Nutrition III: Mastering your choices
At what age will you begin to think about your cholesterol level? Why?