Contributed by – Preksha Buttan
You already know that having high cholesterol levels in your body can put you at risk of cardiovascular diseases. But do you know that your body actually needs cholesterol and you cannot go without having it? Yes, you read that right! Cholesterol has got a pretty bad reputation but it’s both good and bad for you. There are cholesterol benefits and then there are cholesterol disadvantages. All in all, it’s a complex story. Here, we have tried to simplify this obscurity around cholesterol. So, keep reading to understand exactly what role does cholesterol play in the body.
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a waxy substance that is often linked to soft candle wax. Cholesterol roles in the body are many. It is essential for the production of various hormones and vitamin D. There are two sources of cholesterol. One, your liver produces it. And second, animal-based food items like meat, poultry, and full-fat dairy products. These products are high in saturated and trans fats and that causes your liver to produce extra cholesterol. But, you do not necessarily need these products when it comes to aiding cholesterol production. Your body is capable of producing enough cholesterol that it needs and adding more to it will only take cholesterol levels in your body to unhealthy levels and it will start collecting in your arteries inviting many diseases.
[Also read: Guidebook to manage cholesterol levels]
Difference between good cholesterol and bad cholesterol?
When talking about cholesterol, two main types of cholesterol often comes up – good cholesterol and bad cholesterol. High-density lipoprotein (HDL), which is good cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL), which is bad cholesterol. Cholesterol moves in the body with the help of lipoproteins (made of fat and proteins).
HDL helps in getting rid of the cholesterol from the body. It transports it to the liver to be expelled out so that there’s no excess cholesterol in the body and none of it gets collected in the arteries. And hence, HDL is called good cholesterol.
On the other hand, LDL takes cholesterol to your arteries. Too much cholesterol in arteries can lead to a buildup of plaque which can block your arteries in your heart and brain and you may suffer from a heart attack or stroke. Plaque buildup can also reduce the flow of oxygen to various organs which also becomes the cause for many diseases.
What are the functions of cholesterol?
Although cholesterol has a bad reputation, the body actually needs it. Here are some functions of cholesterol:
- Helps in the formation and maintenance of cell membranes and structures.
- Important for the making of many critical hormones like cortisol, testosterone, progesterone, and estrogen.
- Used by the liver to make bile.
- Nerve cells use cholesterol for insulation.
- Also needed for the production of vitamin D.
Some cholesterol management guidelines
The most important thing you can do to have healthy levels of cholesterol in your body is to follow a healthy lifestyle. Here are some cholesterol management guidelines that may help you:
- Add more fresh fruits, vegetables, and wholegrain foods to your diet.
- Make sure that the dairy products you use are of reduced-fat milk.
- Opt for lean meat.
- Increase fish intake.
- Instead of butter and dairy blends, go for polyunsaturated margarine.
- Add foods rich in soluble fiber and healthy fats in your diet.
- Limit cheese and ice cream intake.
- Quit drinking and smoking.
- Exercise regularly for at least 30 minutes.
- Lose any excess body fat that you may have.
- Limit your sugar intake.
Cholesterol and cholesterol management is not as tricky as it may look. But you need to make every effort to keep your cholesterol levels in check as it is one of the common causes of cardiovascular diseases. If in doubt about your cholesterol levels, you can take a cholesterol test anytime. According to your reports, a doctor will be able to better guide you on what you should avoid and what you should add to your diet.
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