It may surprise you, but cholesterol in the body is not at all as bad as it is commonly believed. In fact, it is just one of the substances that our body produces to maintain a healthy state. Another source of cholesterol is food, mostly of animal origin. But it is worth noting that our liver produces significantly more cholesterol if harmful trans fats are present in the diet.
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance called sterol, which is contained in the membranes of all cells of a living organism.
Man needs it for the production of hormones, vitamin D and some enzymes. The highest concentrations of cholesterol are found in the cells of the liver and brain. By the way, gallbladder stones are also cholesterol. This fact explains the strange name of the substance, which in Greek means two words: “bile” and “solid”.
- What is cholesterol?
- Functions of cholesterol
- What is blood cholesterol level?
- What affects cholesterol levels?
- Risk factors and causes of increase
- "Fatty" vessels: risk factors
- Concentration in blood: norm and deviation
- How to calculate health risk?
- Can diet lower cholesterol?
- Diet for people with high cholesterol
- Why cholesterol is dangerous
- Cholesterol and heart disease
- Interesting research
- How to determine the level of sterol?
- How to understand the numbers in the analyzes
- Lipid-lowering therapy
- How to lower blood cholesterol levels without drugs
- Is low cholesterol a problem?
- Sources of cholesterol
- Food against cholesterol
- Other dietary recommendations
- Special sport for special lipids
- Did you know about this?
The body is able to produce cholesterol for its own needs (almost 75 percent of the total). In the body, this substance is produced by different cells. But most of all, almost a quarter of the total, is produced by the liver. In addition, cholesterol is synthesized in the intestines and in the layers of the skin.
In addition, cholesterol can enter the body with food. But, according to some researchers, the cholesterol in this variation is poorly absorbed by the intestines, therefore, obtained from products, it does not significantly affect the total amount of the substance in the blood. Although, we note right away that such a statement is only one of many theories. Being an “oil-based” substance, cholesterol does not mix with blood, which is, so to speak, an aqueous solution, therefore it is transported through the vessels in small “packages” - lipoproteins. They are made up of lipids on the inside and proteins on the outside.
In the human body, they are represented by two main types. The first type is low-density lipoprotein (LDL). Or, as they are also said, “bad” cholesterol with a modified molecular structure (it is this substance that is responsible for the creation of atherosclerotic plaques that lead to blockage of the arteries and cardiovascular diseases).
The second type is high-density lipoprotein (HDL) or "good" cholesterol. This substance, on the contrary, prevents the development of atherosclerotic disease (blockage of blood vessels), since it works to remove "bad" cholesterol. In a rather primitive way, HDL elements capture the "bad" sterol and transport it to the liver, where these particles are processed and excreted from the body. The normal level of "correct" cholesterol is called an important factor for the prevention of cardiological and vascular diseases. It is found in healthy animal foods, is also produced by the body, and its excess is excreted.
Meanwhile, for the proper functioning of the body, it is important to maintain adequate levels of both types of lipoproteins.
Functions of cholesterol
This substance performs a number of functions that affect the life of the body. Here are just a few:
- maintains the structure of cell walls (membranes);
- affects the creation of bile acids;
- promotes vitamin D production;
- supports the production of certain hormones.
What is blood cholesterol level?
High cholesterol refers to an increased amount of a substance in the blood. But such a condition is not accompanied by any symptoms, which is why many do not even know about their bad tests. Meanwhile, people with high cholesterol are many times more likely to experience diseases of the coronary and cerebral arteries. And the higher the cholesterol, the higher these chances. If a lipid clot blocks the artery that feeds the brain, a stroke occurs, and blockage of the vessels supplying blood to the heart causes a heart attack.
What affects cholesterol levels?
To a certain extent, blood cholesterol levels can vary depending on the principles of nutrition. However (and doctors also agree), people on the same diet can have different levels of cholesterol in the blood. Although, if you refuse fatty foods, the indicators will undoubtedly decrease.
In some individuals, very high cholesterol can be genetically determined. This phenomenon is called familial hypercholesterolemia.
Risk factors and causes of increase
Two types of factors provoke an increase in cholesterol: modified and unmodified.
The easiest way to influence cholesterol levels is to stop eating too much fat. Specifically, nutritionists recommend limiting foods that contain:
- trans fats;
- saturated fat;
- cholesterol (found in foods of animal origin).
Being overweight is also a common cause of bad cholesterol levels, but regular exercise solves this problem. But perhaps the most serious "culprits" are genes.
In addition, abnormal cholesterol levels may occur with certain diseases:
- diabetes ;
- kidney and liver disease;
- polycystic ovaries;
- hormonal dysfunction in women;
- thyroid dysfunction.
Anabolic steroids, corticosteroids, progestins can increase LDL and lower HDL.
"Fatty" vessels: risk factors
Perhaps all people are at varying degrees at risk for atherosclerotic plaques. But some circumstances can accelerate the process of formation of fat accumulations in the vessels. These include:
- unhealthy lifestyle (smoking, obesity, excessive alcohol consumption, physical inactivity, unhealthy diet with high salt intake);
- high blood triglycerides;
- kidney dysfunction;
- increased concentration of "bad" cholesterol.
And if a person still has the power to influence the above factors at least partially, then there are nuances that cannot be changed, and they can also cause atherosclerosis. These are:
- genetic predisposition;
- early menopause in women;
- male (men are more susceptible to the disease);
- age (this risk increases with age).
And most importantly, these factors interact with each other. The presence of two or more of the above should be a reason to more carefully monitor your health.
Blood levels: norm and deviation
As a rule, the higher the level of LDL ("bad" cholesterol), the greater the risk to health. And by the way, a blood test that determines only total cholesterol can be misleading. The overall high rate does not yet give a clue which of the lipoproteins is not normal. On the other hand, if total cholesterol is elevated , then it is possible that only HDL is in excess, which does not pose health problems. But in order not to guess, but to be sure of the state of health, it is important to determine the levels of the substance of both groups.
How to calculate health risk?
Physicians often resort to using the so-called heart disease risk factor calculator. It takes into account age, gender, bad habits, blood pressure and cholesterol levels. This calculator was developed after many years of monitoring several thousand people. Today they talk about a fairly high accuracy of the results predicted by this method. After the analysis, the doctor determines the risk of diseases as a percentage. So:
- 20% and above - high risk of cardiological diseases for the next decade;
- 10–20% moderate risk;
- less than 10% - low risk.
Can diet lower cholesterol?
Cholesterol is both friend and enemy of man. It is necessary for the normal functioning of the body, but if its level in the blood rises too much, there is a risk of cardiovascular events (stroke and heart attack). Refusal of malnutrition and the transition to a healthy diet gives a good chance of reducing "bad" cholesterol. In addition, healthy food will help regulate other indicators, such as the concentration of salts and sugar in the body.
Diet for people with high cholesterol
UK nutritionists have compiled a list of 6 groups of superfoods that help lower cholesterol levels. These are:
- soy products: milk, desserts, meat substitutes, beans, tofu (at least 15 g per day);
- nuts (handful);
- oatmeal and barley;
- fruits and vegetables;
- foods rich in polyunsaturated fats.
In addition, the British also compiled a list of six foods that are most dangerous for people who have high cholesterol. It consists of:
- fatty and processed meats;
- milk fat.
Why cholesterol is dangerous
It seems that everyone already knows that high cholesterol brings health problems. But how dangerous an excess of "adipose tissue" is and what causes such deviations from the norm, people without a medical education can rarely clearly explain. Bypassing heavy medical terminology, let's try to tell about it as intelligibly as possible.
So, two types of lipoproteins “live” in the vessels (in fact, there are more of them, but these are the main ones). The “good” HDLs collect excess cholesterol and transport it to the liver. There, the substance is processed and excreted from the body. At the same time, there is a "harmful" analogue of cholesterol. It travels through the body in a different direction - from the liver, and periodically sticks to the walls of blood vessels. Over time, such an accumulation of "adipose tissue" narrows the lumen of the arteries and disrupts their patency for blood. This is how atherosclerosis occurs.
For people who already have heart problems or diagnosed with liver disease, the consumption of cholesterol food is important, if not reduced to zero, then at least minimized as much as possible. The same applies to people after operations. They should not consume cholesterol for at least two and a half months.
Cholesterol and heart disease
Cholesterol deposits are like small fatty clumps that form inside blood vessels, causing a disease called atherosclerosis.
Over the years (several months is enough for this process in some cases), plaque patches can become larger and thicker. Subsequently, due to the accumulation of fats on the walls of blood vessels, the arteries narrow, and the blood flow weakens. Narrowing of the diameter of the coronary arteries is the cause of angina pectoris. Sometimes a blood clot (with thrombosis) can bump into a plaque. This course of events ends with a heart attack, a heart attack, or other serious cardiovascular problems. Thus, atherosclerotic plaques can cause angina pectoris, heart attack, stroke, ischemic attacks, and peripheral arterial disease. By the way, diseases of the cardiovascular system caused by atherosclerosis are the most common cause of death and poor health.
According to a 2013 study, an imbalance of LDL and HDL affects not only heart health, but also affects the functionality of the brain. And lowering the concentration of "bad" cholesterol reduces the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.
Scientists have also linked heart valve stenosis (an abnormality in which a valve narrows, restricting blood flow to the heart) with elevated levels of "bad" cholesterol.
How to determine the level of sterol?
Maintaining adequate cholesterol levels is a great way to protect yourself from stroke and heart disease.
Many people are wondering what symptoms high LDL causes. And that's where the rub is. None! Often only the occurrence of cardiovascular disease opens the patient's eyes to his cholesterol level. Therefore, doctors are increasingly recommending that people over 20 years old, as well as people at risk, check the concentration of blood fats every 4-6 years.
Lab results show cholesterol levels in milligrams per deciliter of blood (mg/dL). But in order to understand how safe indicators of “bad” and total cholesterol are for a person, doctors also analyze other factors (age, family history, smoking, hypertension).
Total cholesterol is usually calculated using the formula:
LDL + HDL + 20% triglycerides.
It is good for the body when there is more HDL than other lipids. With regard to triglycerides, this is the most common type of lipid (fat) in the body. Its level depends on age, gender and other factors. A high concentration of triglycerides in combination with elevated LDL and low HDL is an alarm signal. He can talk about the presence of fatty accumulations on the walls of blood vessels (atherosclerosis).
How to understand numbers in tests
- optimal: less than 100 mg/dL;
- near optimal: 100 to 129 mg/dL;
- borderline high: 130 to 159 mg/dl;
- high: 160 to 189 mg/dl;
- very high: 190 mg/dl.
- normal: less than 200 mg/dl;
- borderline high: 200-239 mg/dL;
- high: 240 mg/dl and above.
- low: below 40 mg/dl;
- high: 60 mg/dl and above.
- normal: 200 mg/dl or less;
- borderline normal: 200–399 mg/dL;
- high: 400-1000 mg/dL;
- very high: 100 mg/dl and above;
- high: 160 mg/dl and above.
Hyperlipidemia is a condition in which cholesterol and triglyceride levels are elevated.
Treatment in this case is determined individually, depending on the level of cholesterol. When it is in the range of 100-160 mg/dl, the so-called low level, but other risk factors are present, diet and exercise can lower the lipid concentration. At rates of 130-190 mg / dl, various drugs are already being used to correct the condition. According to the mechanism of action, there are:
- Drugs that prevent the formation of atherogenic lipoproteins. Among them, the most popular are:
- statins - interfere with the production of enzymes responsible for the production of cholesterol;
- fibric acid derivatives (fibrates) - act on the synthesis of triglycerides or fatty acids that are part of LDL, catalyze the activity of enzymes that provide lipid oxidation in the liver, which helps to reduce the concentration of LDL and triglycerides due to the excretion of LDL from blood serum together with bile;
- probucol (fenbucol) is an anti-cholesterol drug, promotes the excretion of cholesterol through the liver and intestines, and has an antioxidant effect;
- Drugs that inhibit cholesterol absorption in the intestines:
- excreting bile acids (cholestyramine, cholestipol);
- Guarem and others.
How to reduce blood cholesterol levels without drugs
But it is not only medicines that can lower cholesterol levels. If you follow certain tips, you can also protect yourself from the accumulation of harmful fats.
To do this:
- Read food labels. It is important to give preference to foods that do not contain trans fats, as well as foods with low cholesterol levels.
- Limit red meat, fatty dairy products. Instead of margarine, use natural vegetable oils. Avoid fried foods.
- Eat more fiber. Tests have shown that with its help it is possible to reduce the concentration of cholesterol by 10%.
- If high cholesterol is a genetic problem in your family, exercise early and eat a healthy diet. Even if your laboratory lipid values are normal.
- Are you overweight? Get rid of it as quickly as possible, and the risk of atherosclerosis for you will decrease by almost 10%.
Is low cholesterol a problem?
Everyone is somehow used to the fact that cholesterol must be fought, by hook or by crook to reduce its concentration in the body. But it is important to know that in the “human-cholesterol” chain there are situations when the body, on the contrary, asks for additional portions of the substance.
Increasing the intake of cholesterol-rich foods is important when there is insufficient production of sex hormones and bile acid. Additional portions of cholesterol will also help restore damaged erythrocytes (red blood cells). Did weakness appear? This may also be a reason for an increase in the concentration of lipoproteins. And now the most interesting. We are used to the fact that high cholesterol harms the arteries. But with its deficiency, the vessels also suffer - they become fragile. In this case, lipoproteins strengthen the damaged areas of the arteries with a kind of wax-fat patches.
Signals of cholesterol deficiency can be bruising and changes in the blood count, fatigue and a decrease in pain threshold, as well as weakened immunity, depression, dysfunction of the reproductive system, decreased libido.
Sources of Cholesterol
When designing a nutritional program for weight loss and overall health, it is important to know which foods are high in cholesterol. Below is a table with the necessary information for this.
|Product (100 g)||Cholesterol (g)|
|Liver, liver pate||0.5|
|Squid||0.09 [2 57]|
|Cream (20 percent)||0.07|
But this does not mean at all that you can (or should) refuse products containing cholesterol. Cholesterol is good for humans, and in adequate doses will only benefit. To confirm what has been said, we can recall the traditional menu of the inhabitants of maritime countries, which is especially rich in cholesterol, but is considered extremely useful. Since cholesterol in this menu is also from the category of useful.
Food against cholesterol
Proper diet is a sure helper in the fight against "bad" cholesterol. So, which foods are the most beneficial for health, what from our table will help reduce LDL levels and strengthen the cardiovascular system?
Scientists have calculated that 5-10 grams of soluble fiber consumed daily significantly lowers blood lipid levels. And by the way, providing yourself with the recommended norms of this substance is not as difficult as it might seem. For example, one serving of "hercules" contains approximately 6 g of fiber. If you supplement the dish with fruits and vegetables, then its total amount will be approximately 10 g. And this is even more than the minimum norm.
A handful of nuts can affect cholesterol levels. Walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, pine nuts or pistachios - you can take any of those that you like. They all contain mono- and polyunsaturated fatty acids that strengthen blood vessels. But when choosing nuts as a cure for cholesterol, it is important to give preference to natural products, without icing sugar or salt.
This powerful source of nutrients can also lower LDL levels. Especially useful for overweight people.
Two tablespoons of olive oil a day is enough for the body to feel the benefits. A strong heart and normal cholesterol are the main benefits of this product. But you should not get too carried away with them, because, like avocados, they contain quite a lot of calories.
Scientists have proven that the protein found in dairy whey products can also lower LDL and total cholesterol levels. Therefore, you should not turn off natural dairy foods from your diet.
In addition to these foods, salmon, flaxseeds, plant-derived cholesterol, citrus fruits, and soy can help fight LDL. So do not immediately look for pills to lower cholesterol. Especially when the concentration of the substance is not very high.
Other Dietary Recommendations
But for any of the above foods to actually benefit the body, it is important to review the general principles of nutrition. First, eliminate trans fats from your diet completely. And this means giving up margarines, pastries and cakes from stores. Trans substances are usually labeled as "partially hydrogenated fats" on the label. But besides this, it is important to supplement the right diet with at least a little physical activity.
Special sport for special lipids
Exercise alone cannot lower cholesterol. But regular exercise “triggers” processes in the body, which as a result lead to a decrease in the concentration of LDL. In addition, it is already known that obese people tend to have high cholesterol, and losing weight helps to solve this problem. On the other hand, exercise stimulates the production of enzymes that help transport LDL to the liver. And the third reason in favor of sports: physical activity can affect the size of protein particles that carry cholesterol in the blood.
The fact that sport is good is already clear. But another question arises: how often and how long should training last in order to affect cholesterol? On this topic, researchers do not stop arguing, putting forward new theories. Some believe that 30 minutes a day is enough to start all the necessary mechanisms. Others argue that this is too little to feel changes in cholesterol concentration.
However, the researchers examined trends in people who exercised intensively and in those who preferred moderate exercise. It turned out that both types of activities give a positive result, but in the first case, changes appear faster.
And now that the intensity of the exercises has been sorted out, it's time to find out which sport is better to give preference to people with high cholesterol. Most experts agree that race walking is the best choice. Moderate exercise and pacing is suitable for everyone, even people with severe obesity. Regular running or jogging also helps lower cholesterol. And fans of pedaling can safely get on bicycles and begin to reduce their LDL levels.
The only rule for everyone, no matter what sport they choose, is to practice regularly. Only in this case, you can count on the improvement of blood tests. This does not mean that the fight against cholesterol should turn into many hours of daily training. You can make your own study plan and stick to it. The main thing is to move regularly.
But before you start exercising, it is extremely important to consult with your doctor, discuss together the intensity and duration of training. Especially if there is a history of heart problems.
Did you know about this?
- There is no daily allowance for dietary intake of cholesterol. The liver is able to produce exactly as much as is necessary for the body. From this point of view, vegetarians, whose menu does not contain animal food, are doing very well.
- High cholesterol can be inherited.
- High levels of lipoproteins can be found even in children. Atherosclerotic plaques begin to accumulate in childhood, especially against the background of congenital problems with the cardiovascular system.
- Paradoxically, cholesterol-free foods can increase cholesterol levels in the blood. What's more, dietary cholesterol is not as bad for the body as saturated lipids and trans fats. If trans lipids make up only 2% of the total calories consumed, then rest assured, this will increase the concentration of lipoproteins by 20%.
- Even slight weight loss will improve blood counts.
- As a rule, men are more prone to high cholesterol. But in women after menopause, LDL levels also rise sharply.
- Skin bumps (xanthomas) can be a sign of elevated blood lipids. As a rule, such formations appear in the elderly on the elbows, knees or hands.
- There is an opinion that too low a level of total cholesterol is no less harmful than an increase in the norm. Lack of lipids can increase the risk of cancer, depression, and cause premature birth and underweight newborns.
- Cholesterol contributes to the production of sex hormones, which are responsible for libido, and also helps normal digestion.
- Cholesterol is one of the building blocks of the body, or rather, an important component of cell membranes.
- High cholesterol - this may be normal. But such a statement is only true for women during pregnancy, when their body needs additional portions of this substance. Some studies suggest that "correct" cholesterol contributes to the proper formation of the brain in the fetus, and breast milk rich in cholesterol has a positive effect on the health of the child, especially on his cardiovascular system.
- High cholesterol levels can be recognized... by the eyes. A white border around the cornea and fatty lumps under the skin of the eyelids are a sign of high cholesterol.
When it comes to cholesterol, many people immediately think of fatty junk food and heart disease. But in fact, cholesterol in the right concentration is our assistant, without which many life processes would stop.