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The Truth About Cholesterol

Updated: Apr 29, 2019

Understanding what cholesterol is and why it is essential in the body can be very beneficial to our health, as many of us are afraid of the word cholesterol without knowing its true value.

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance forming part of all the membranes that surround the body’s cells. The body can make cholesterol and obtain it from food sources. Cholesterol travels in the bloodstream; as it is fatty and blood is watery, they don’t mix so cholesterol needs to be transported by lipoproteins. These come in two forms: low density lipoprotein (LDL) and high density lipoprotein (HDL).

“Good” and “bad” cholesterol

LDL cholesterol is typically termed “bad” as it transports cholesterol away from the liver towards the tissues, including the arteries. But it is only bad when quantities are too high, forming plaque which clogs up the arteries causing heart disease. Whenever the liver receives a signal that damage to the inner lining of the blood vessels has occurred (i.e. a toxin is present) it sends cholesterol to the site of the damage using a transporter, LDL-cholesterol. It actually acts as a defence mechanism. The majority of cholesterol in the blood is in the LDL form.

HDL, or “good” cholesterol transports cholesterol from the arteries back to the liver, which is then eliminated from the body.

Why is cholesterol important?

  1. Keeps the membrane of the cells firm and ensures that only certain substances can pass through the membrane. It protects the inner cell.

  2. Holds proteins embedded in the cell membrane in place for cell communication, which is essential for all bodily functions.

  3. Main constituent of myelin which insulates, nourishes and protects nerve fibres in the brain.

  4. Responsible for synapse formation which makes a person more mentally alert.

  5. Produces steroid hormones such as testosterone, progesterone, aldosterone and others. These hormones have several functions in the body. They regulate metabolism, produce energy, absorb minerals, form brain, muscle and bone and regulate behaviour, emotions and reproduction. Without cholesterol you would not be able to have children.

  6. Large component of bile, which is essential for digesting and absorbing fats and fat-soluble vitamins, A, D, E and K. The body cannot function without these vitamins.

  7. Vitamin D is made from the cholesterol in our skin when it is exposed to sunlight. This important vitamin plays a role in nerve, muscle, and immune functions. It helps the body absorb calcium which maintains bone health.

  8. Cholesterol is essential for the immune system to function properly. It helps repair and protect immune cells.

Measuring cholesterol

There are normally no symptoms to detect high cholesterol in the blood. This can be determined with a blood test, which measures, LDL, HDL and total cholesterol to determine appropriate treatment.

Dietary sources of cholesterol

Caviar is the richest source, cod liver oil follows closely. Other rich sources are fresh egg yolks, natural butter, lard and fish such as sardines, salmon, shrimps and mackerel.


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