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CHOLESTEROL

 

Cholesterol is a a lipid found in the cell membranes of all body tissues, known as a sterol [steroid and alcohol].

Most cholesterol is synthesized by the body from the food we eat, and transported in the blood plasma to the tissues of the body.

Cholesterol is found in higher concentrations in those tissues which either synthesize it more readily, or have densely-packed membranes. This includes the liver, spinal cord, brain, and arterial plaques.

Cholesterol is insoluble in blood, but is transported in the circulatory system bound to a water-soluble lipoprotein.

When levels of cholesterol build up in the body beyond healthy levels, they stick to these membranes and artery walls interfering with normal body transport functions. This reasults in cardiovascular disease.

 

Purpose Of Cholesterol

Cholesterol is required in the membrane of cells for normal cellular function. The main functions of Cholesterol are:

  • Build and maintain cell membranes
  • Regulate membrane fluidity over a wider range of temperatures
  • Aid in the manufacture of bile stored in the gallbladder and helps digest fats),
  • Metabolism of fat soluble vitamins, including vitamins A, D, E and K.
  • The major precursor for the synthesis of vitamin D and of the various steroid hormones (which include cortisol and aldosterone in the adrenal glands, and the sex hormones progesterone, the various estrogens, testosterone, and derivatives).
  • Some research suggests that cholesterol may also act as an antioxidant.
  • Cholesterol has also been implicated in cell signalling processes, where it forms lipid rafts in the plasma membrane.
  • Reduces the permeability of the plasma membrane to hydrogen ions (protons) and sodium ions

 

How Cholesterol Is Transported

Cholesterol is minimally soluble in water; it cannot dissolve and travel in the water-based bloodstream. Instead, it is transported in the bloodstream by water-soluble lipoproteins. These carry both cholesterol and triglycerides internally. The apolipoproteins forming the surface of the given lipoprotein particle determine from what cells cholesterol will be removed and to where it will be supplied.

Lipoproteins

There are two main forms of lipoproteins:

  • Low density lipoproteins (LDL), which carry cholesterol from the liver to the cells.
  • High density lipoproteins (HDL), which return the extra cholesterol to the liver.

The largest lipoproteins, which primarily transport fats from the intestinal mucosa to the liver, are called chylomicrons. They carry mostly fats in the form of triglycerides and cholesterol. In the liver, chylomicron particles release triglycerides and some cholesterol.

 

LDL - The Bad Choleseterol

The liver converts unburned food metabolites into very low density lipoproteins (VLDL) and secretes them into plasma. Here, they are converted to low-density lipoprotein (LDL) particles and non-esterified fatty acids, which can affect other body cells.

In healthy individuals, the relatively few LDL particles are large. In contrast, large numbers of small dense LDL (sdLDL) particles are strongly associated with the presence of disease within the arteries.

For this reason, LDL is referred to as "bad cholesterol".

 

HDL - Good Cholesterol

High-density lipoprotein (HDL) particles transport cholesterol back to the liver for excretion. They vary considerably in their effectiveness in doing so.

Having high volume of large HDL particles correlates with better health; hence it is commonly called "good cholesterol".

Having small amounts of large HDL particles is independently associated with disease within the arteries.

 

Total Blood Cholesterol Tests

Cholesterol tests measure 'blood lipids'; all the fatty substances in the blood, including HDL cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and triglycerides.

Also see: Cholesterol Tests

Related Reading

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