When most people hear the word “cholesterol,” they think of a harmful substance that contributes to the development of cardiovascular disease. On the contrary, this waxy, fatty substance is vital for a variety of bodily functions and structures, including the fluid structure of the cell membrane. It is when cholesterol levels become too high that it can pose a danger to a person’s health.
Before considering the health effects of cholesterol, it is important to know the kinds of cholesterol within the body and how they are transported. Because cholesterol is a fatty substance, it is not soluble in the plasma of the bloodstream, just as oil is not miscible in water. To overcome this barrier and transport essential fats to the cells of the body, specialized soluble particles called lipoproteins are recruited to envelop and carry the waxy cholesterol through the circulatory system. The main types of lipoproteins include:
These large lipoproteins are responsible for carrying fats from the food you eat (triglycerides) from the intestines to the tissues of the body.
- Very Low Density Lipoproteins (VLDLs)
These lipoproteins carry fat from the liver to the body’s tissues.
- Low Density Lipoproteins (LDLs)
Commonly called “bad” cholesterol, LDLs are responsible for depositing fatty plaques on the artery walls.
- High Density Lipoproteins (HDLs)
Known as the “good” cholesterol, HDLs work to clean the arteries of fatty plaques and transport them back to the liver for disposal or recycling.
The health affects of cholesterol, therefore, are dependent upon the fat intake in your diet and the ratio of LDLs to HDLs in your bloodstream. Increased levels of LDL and triglycerides can promote the formation of fatty plaques on the walls of your arteries, resulting in atherosclerosis and eventual cardiovascular disease. Portions of fatty plaques can also break off, causing the formation of a clot and a possible obstruction of an artery. When this occurs, heart attack or stroke can be the result.
The best way to avoid the complications associated with high LDL cholesterol and triglycerides is to evaluate your risk factors with an experienced physician. To schedule a consultation with a doctor in the Las Vegas area, call the MountainView Hospital Consult-A-Nurse health care referral line at (702) 233-5474.