When you hear the word ‘cholesterol’, the first thought that springs to your mind is that it’s bad for your health. So, it may surprise you to know that cholesterol isn’t entirely bad. In fact, your body produces cholesterol naturally and uses it in critical functions such as building cells and tissues, and producing several essential hormones.
However, when your body’s cholesterol levels become too high, due to excessive consumption of saturated or trans fats from cholesterol-rich foods, it can lead to serious issues, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke.
What is cholesterol and how does it work?
Cholesterol is a lipid, which is a fat-like substance that’s present in your blood. Your body converts calories into lipids and stores them to use as energy later. Lipids are also vital in the formation of cell membranes.
There are two main types of cholesterol in the body: low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL). Lipoproteins are a combination of fat and proteins that are responsible for transporting cholesterol all over your body via the bloodstream.
LDL carries cholesterol to the arteries. It is considered bad because it can accumulate in your blood vessels and create blockages. HDL is known as good cholesterol because it transports excess LDL from the blood vessels to the liver, which removes it from your body.
So, optimal cholesterol levels are when your body has low levels of LDL and high levels of HDL.
What can high levels of cholesterol do to your body?
Elevated levels of LDL cholesterol in your blood can have some dangerous consequences.
High amounts of LDL cholesterol in the blood can form fatty, waxy deposits called plaques, which build up on the walls of your arteries. Over time, this creates blockages, thereby restricting blood flow and causing your arteries to narrow. This is known as atherosclerosis. This condition can cause further complications.
High blood pressure
Narrow arteries hamper the flow of blood, leading to an increase in blood pressure. The narrower your arteries become, the higher your blood pressure rises. Over time, this can lead to serious health issues, mainly heart diseases.
Angina (chest pain)
The accumulation of plaque in the arteries connected to the heart can cause a reduction in the amount of oxygen delivered to the heart via the blood. This can cause chest pain, otherwise known as angina. This is a symptom of coronary artery disease and it also indicates that you are at risk of getting a heart attack.
If the plaque tears or a piece of it breaks away, it can lead to the formation of a blood clot, which further blocks the flow of blood or even plugs your artery entirely. If this happens in one of the arteries leading to the heart, it can trigger a heart attack.
If the above process happens in one of the arteries leading to the brain, it can result in a stroke.
Other effects on the brain
A disruption in blood flow due to blockages in blood vessels, caused by high cholesterol, can impair mental function and lead to memory loss or even loss of movement.
Impact on the liver
Cholesterol is essential for the creation of bile, a fluid produced by the liver that aids digestion. But, if you have high cholesterol in your bile, it can result in the formation of extremely painful gallstones in your gallbladder.
Getting your cholesterol levels checked regularly, maintaining them at the recommended levels for your age, and taking the right steps to lower your risk of heart disease will ensure your cholesterol levels remain optimal.