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CHOLESTEROL

For years, cholesterol has been a major concern for millions of people
around the world. This fear of cholesterol has led to many consultations with
specialists like physicians and nutritionists. It seems that there is a great
misconception about this molecule. A majority of the population is conscious of
the harm that it can cause, but they are not aware that it has pertinent values to
our body. There are two major forms that cholesterol comes in: 1) low density
lipoprotein, which is generally considered "bad" cholesterol and 2) high density
lipoprotein, which is known as "good" cholesterol. Although given these names,
there is nothing inherently good or bad about them. This research will clarify a lot
of the misconceptions that are associated with cholesterol and the overall effect
that cholesterol has on the human body.
Cholesterol is a soft, fat like substance made up of carbon, hydrogen, and
oxygen, that is found in all the body's cells and is used to form cell membranes,
manufacture hormones and other necessary substances. It is an organic
compound belonging to the sterol family that also encompasses steroids.
Cholesterol is produced two ways. The first is by the liver. "The liver
produces about 50,000,000,000,000,000 cholesterol molecules a second" (Body
Mechanics 1), or about 1,000 mg of cholesterol a day. The second is by the intake
of the foods eaten like animal fats (saturated and polysaturated fats) such as
cheese, lard, egg yolks, red or marbled meat, pork, processed meat, gravies,
palm or coconut oil, deep fried foods, whole milk, butter, etc.. This second
process is accountable for another 400 mg - 500 mg of cholesterol a day.
Once eaten, the cholesterol in the food goes into the intestines to await
digestion. "Chylomicrons (fatty particles containing mainly triglycerides, but also
cholesterol, phospholipids and protein) are produced in the intestinal wall"
(Arthersclerosis 3). Once the chylomicrons enter the bloodstream, they bind to
receptors on the capillaries. A large percentage of triglycerides is broken down
and

released

into

circulation.

"The

remainder

of

the

chylomicron

(the

'chylomicron remnant'), now richer in cholesterol, continues in circulation until it


reaches the liver and is absorbed (Athersclerosis 3). Since cholesterol is like a fat,

it is hydrophobic and unable to mix with water or blood. In order for it to be


carried through the blood, the liver the combines the cholesterol with
triglycerides and proteins (called lipoproteins) to form packages called very low
density lipoproteins (VLDL). These packages, which account for 10-15 percent of
the cholesterol in the body, are dispersed into the bloodstream and are
"transported to tissue capillaries where triglycerides are broken down and either
used for energy or stored by muscle or fat cells" (Athersclerosis 3). After the
release of the triglycerides, the package now has a higher percentage of
cholesterol. This package is now called low density lipoproteins or "LDL".
LDL's, also known as the "bad" cholesterol, is transported through the
bloodstream to build cells, make hormones, and act as an insulation for nerves.
Low density lipoproteins account for "60-70 percent of the total serum
cholesterol" in the body (ATP: Chapter 1 1). This package of cholesterol is very
useful to the body. It is necessary in the membranes of cells. If the cell gets too
cold, the cholesterol kept the cell from freezing or turning solid. Conversely, as
the cell gets too hot, the cholesterol keeps the cell from melting. This so called
"bad" cholesterol, maintain the cell's fluidity. Once the LDL's have completed
their tasks, they are removed from the body though the bloodstream to the liver.
However, this removal process can occur at slower rates in certain people than
others. This causes a build up of the cholesterol within the walls of the arteries.
This build up, over time, can slow down or even prevent the circulation of blood
to the heart and brain and can cause such disorders as Atherosclerosis, in which
"deposits of cholesterol and other fatty substances circulating in the blood
accumulate in the interior walls of the blood vessels", and hypercholesterolemia,
which is an elevated level of cholesterol in the blood, and ultimately coronary
heart disease (CHD), which causes heart attacks (Britannica Online 1). This is
where the LDL's get their "bad" reputation.
In addition to VLDL's and LDL's, there is another form of lipoprotein called
high density lipoprotein or "HDL". This package, which counts for 20-30 percent
of the bodies total blood cholesterol, is also synthesized in the liver but it
contains a higher percentage of triglycerides and a lower percentage of
cholesterol. It is believed by many researchers to be "good" cholesterol because
whereas low density lipoproteins are sent through the bloodstream to the
different parts of the body that needs the cholesterol, the HDL's are sent through
the bloodstream to collect the excess cholesterol, take it away from the arteries,

and bring it back to the liver where it is broken down, reprocessed, or excreted.
This process decreases the accumulation of cholesterol in the arteries which in
turn reduces the risk of heart disease, which is where HDL's get their reputation
of being the "good" cholesterol.
Both LDL's and HDL's are relatively safe as long as their levels found in the
body do not exceed what is recommended. When getting cholesterol checked by
a physician, there are two variables that are looked at: 1) the concentration of
total cholesterol in the blood, and 2) the HDL cholesterol in your blood. According
to the American Heart Association (AHA), below 200 mg/dL (milligrams per
deciliter of blood) is the desirable measurement for total cholesterol. With this
reading, the risk for a heart attack is relatively low and should be checked every
five years. A reading of between 200 and 239 mg/dL, which is the average for
most Americans, is borderline to high blood cholesterol according to the AHA.
Someone with this reading is at twice the risk of a heart attack than someone
with a reading of 200 mg/dL, and should change or modify your diet and do
physical activity 3-5 times a week. They should also get their levels rechecked at
least every other year. The third measurement bracket is above 240 mg/dL. This
reading is considered high blood cholesterol by the AHA. Someone with this
reading is in serious risk of a heart attack, and should work very closely with a
physician to work out a program to reduce this reading.
When checking the HDL cholesterol in the blood, a desirable reading would
be above 35 mg/dL. For Americans, the average level is between 45 and 65
mg/dL. There is evidence that shows that for every 1 mg/dL decrease in HDL,
your risk for heart disease increases by 2 to 3 percent. Another way to measure
the HDL in the blood is by a "cholesterol ratio". This is determined by taking the
total cholesterol in the blood and dividing it by the HDL level in the blood.
According to the AHA, a safe ratio is below 5:1, with the ideal ratio being 3.5:1.
There are many factors that can lower the LDL in the blood. The first is the
diet. Cutting down on saturated fats in a diet can decrease your total cholesterol
ratio. Eating healthier, like using unsaturated fats such as corn, peanut,
safflower, olive, and soybean oils can raise HDL levels in the body. Other safe
foods are: lean meats, skinless chicken, beans, fruit, low fat milk, grains, fish,
substituting eggs with egg beaters, margarine, etc.. Cigarette smoking is another
factor that can raise LDL build up. Another problem is smoking. Smoking causes
the heart to beat and pump harder, which is able to push LDL's into the arteries

easier than nonsmokers to cause a build up. The cholesterol levels are higher in
men than in women. There is evidence that has shown that women during their
childbearing years have a much lower level of cholesterol than men. The
estrogen that is produced before menopause lowers the risk of high cholesterol.
After menopause, women's risk of CHD increases.
In conclusion, both LDL's and HDL's are neither good nor bad. They each
have a specific purpose and function that is vital to the human body. Only when
excessive amounts are taken, do they present a risk to the health of a human.
Watching what is eaten, exercise, and regular testing can assure a long and
healthy life without the concern of cholesterol.

Bibliography
American Heart Association. "Atherosclerosis." Heart and Stroke Guide.
http://www.amhrt.org/hs98/athero.html (1998).
American Heart Association. "Choletserol." Heart and Stroke Guide.
http://www.amhrt.org/hs98/Cholest.html (1998).
American Heart Association. "Choletsterol Levels." Heart and Stroke Guide.
http://www.amhrt.org/hs98/chollev.html (1998).
American Heart Association. "Choletsterol, Lowering the Levels." Heart and
Stroke Guide. http://www.amhrt.org/hs98/chollower.html (1998).
American Heart Association. "Cholesterol Ratio." Heart and Stroke Guide.
http:www.amhrt.org/hs98/cholratio.html (1998).
American Heart Association. "Triglicerides." Heart and Stroke Guide.
http://www.amhrt.org/hs98/triglyc.html (1998).
American Heart Association. "Risk, Absolute, and Relative." Heart and
Stroke Guide. http://www.amhrt.org/hs98/risk.html (1998).
The Atlanta Cardiology Group, P.C. "Coronary Artery Disease."
http://www.atlcard.com/cad1.html (1995).

Cholesterol, Genetics, and Heart Disease Institute. "Inherited Disorders


Contributing to Coronary Heart Disease." http://www.heartdisease.org/Traits
(1996).
Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corporation. "How to Reduce Your Blood
Cholesterol." The Health Manual. http://www.columbia.net/consumer (1997).