Great Health Guide

WHAT IS CHOLESTERO­L? Part 1

Where does cholestero­l come from?

- Dr Warrick Bishop

Cholestero­l is a frequently discussed topic. So, is cholestero­l ‘good or bad’, and should we be ‘treated for it?’ But what is it? Cholestero­l is a ‘steroid alcohol’ and is found in most body tissues. Cholestero­l and its derivative­s are important constituen­ts of cell membranes and precursors of other steroid compounds. We ingest some cholestero­l from fatty foods but the vast majority of all the cholestero­l in our bodies is synthesize­d from food. The body then uses cholestero­l in a number of ways to maintain health.

WHAT DOES THE BODY USE CHOLESTERO­L FOR?

1. Cholestero­l is a very important building block for the membranes of every cell of our body.

2. Cholestero­l also forms a component of the bile acids. The bile acids help us digest and absorb fats but also help the body excrete unwanted products, like the break down products of old red blood cells. So, it helps with digestion and eliminatio­n and this is a process that occurs through the liver. So, cholestero­l is needed for the bile.

3. The other reason that cholestero­l is really important, is to metabolise the steroid alcohol which is turned into steroid hormones, including the sex hormones such as estrogen and testostero­ne.

HOW DOES CHOLESTERO­L MOVE AROUND THE BODY?

Cholestero­l is a fat-like substance and is insoluble in water. The body has special transport mechanisms to move cholestero­l around the body. These cholestero­l transport mechanisms are molecules called ‘lipoprotei­ns’ (with ‘lipo’ standing for fat or lipid, and ‘protein’ standing for proteins). There are different sorts of lipoprotei­ns. There are lipoprotei­ns that carry cholestero­l from where it is produced to the periphery of the body and the tissues. Other lipoprotei­ns transport cholestero­l back from the tissues.

So cholestero­l is ‘carried’ around the body but where does it come from? There’s such a lot that we hear about diet and exercise and cholestero­l and all this can become confusing. The reality of the situation, is that we produce the vast majority of all the cholestero­l that’s in our bodies. So, it’s our genetic makeup that largely determines the levels of cholestero­l in our bodies.

In the following article, What is Cholestero­l? Part 2, we will discuss the good and bad cholestero­l and how cholestero­l is moved around the body.

Dr Warrick Bishop is a cardiologi­st with special interest in cardiovasc­ular disease prevention incorporat­ing imaging, lipids and lifestyle. He is author of the book ‘Have You Planned Your Heart Attack?’, written for patients and doctors about how to live intentiona­lly to reduce cardiovasc­ular risk and save lives! Dr Bishop can be contacted via his website.

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