What Is Cholesterol?

By: Alli Mayfield

The Starting Facts

Cholesterol is a fatty substance that is important to the body. How do we get it? Well part of it is produced by the liver and the other part is extracted from the saturated fats (from foods we eat) in the intestine. These two work in correspondence to maintain a balance. In order to transport cholesterol through the bloodstream it must be packaged into carriers known as LDL and HDL.

Functions and Structure of LDL and HDL

LDL (low density lipoproteins) is known as the bad cholesterol carrier that transports cholesterol from the liver to other sections of the body and is know to cause buildup in the arteries. HDL or high density lipoprotein is the good cholesterol transporter; it transports the excess cholesterol back to the liver where it will be metabolized. Even though both of these are used for transport and consist of a lipid and a protein, they have very different structures and functions. For example, 50 percent of the weight of an LDL particle is cholesterol and 25 percent is protein. HDL on the other end, contains 20 percent cholesterol by weight and 50 percent protein. They also contain different proteins; this is a huge difference due to the fact that the protein determines the function.

Monitoring the Risk

Monitoring our levels can be done with a simple blood test. In this case, the test is mainly measuring HDL, LDL, total cholesterol, and triglycerides. These results show both you and your doctor your current health status to determine if you are at risk of heart problems. If the concentration of LDL is to high (and HDL to low) it can cause plaque to build up in the artery wall which is not good for your heart health. The levels of HDL and LDL need be at more of a balance in order to prevent risk of heart disease.

What Do My Results Mean?

Each test will give the patient their levels and a reference level. For example, when I go to the eye doctor I know that my pressure is suppose to be 15-19 and when it's 42 something is wrong. A healthy cholesterol level ranges depending on your size, gender, and medical history, but the chart to the right shows the general levels. Some treatments that doctors recommend to lower cholesterol levels include exercise, healthy diet (low saturated fats intake), no smoking, reduce stress, medication, and surgery (if bad enough). Saturated fats are the unhealthy fats that are taken into the body, raising cholesterol levels and increasing the risk of a blockage in the blood stream. It is recommended to avoid trans fat because they are known to lower HDL and higher LDL.