What is Cholesterol And What Should Your Level Be?

Cholesterol is a substance waxy in nature, produced naturally by the body and is necessary for normal body functioning. Cholesterol is known as a lipid, and makes up some of the outer membrane of every body cell. It assists in insulating nerve fibers, and it is also useful in the production of hormones, the chemical “messengers” within the body.

In contradiction to the widespread belief, we only create about 20% of our cholesterol from the food we eat. The rest is created in the liver. After a meal, what is known as dietary cholesterol is absorbed by the intestine and is collected and stored in the liver. The liver is responsible for regulating cholesterol levels found in the blood, and when necessary can release it to aid in normal body function. Although a particular amount of cholesterol is required for our bodies to function properly, too much of it in the blood stream can cause problems with your health and be a risk to your overall well-being.

People are sometimes confused because cholesterol does exist in many forms in the bloodstream. And as cholesterol is a lipid it does not dissipate or dissolve in the blood, but it is transported through the bloodstream and becomes attached to one type of protein or another.

When getting your cholesterol measured at the doctor, what he’s actually measuring is the amount of LDL as well as HDL cholesterol in the body and also the amount of Triglycerides. LDL cholesterol is considered bad cholesterol while HDL cholesterol is considered good cholesterol.  LDL stands for Low Density Lipoproteins and HDL stands for High Density Lipoproteins. Contrary to what most people think, only about 20% of cholesterol is absorbed from food while the other 80% is made by the liver as mentioned.

We know that cholesterol is used to lubricate every cell, and nerve fiber in the body. It’s also used in order to make hormones in the body. Before we focus more on the good cholesterol (HDL cholesterol), let’s talk more about bad cholesterol (LDL cholesterol). Bad cholesterol eventually oxidizes in the body and forms a hard plaque which builds up and in time narrows your arteries. This can lead to heart attack and stroke which are the top two killers in the country.

Good cholesterol helps improve blood viscosity in the body and also helps to eliminate bad cholesterol. There are other supplements you can take which also aid in this process such as Omega-3 fatty acids. Just like oil lubricates a car engine, cholesterol is used to lubricate your body. You do not need to be overweight in order to have high cholesterol and being overweight does not mean you also have high cholesterol. There are many factors that can determine your cholesterol levels. It can be due to family heritage or due to the kinds of food you eat. More than 60% of the United Kingdom population has high cholesterol and this is due in the majority to the kinds of food they eat.

There is some argument over what the ideal cholesterol level should be but it is generally believed that the lower the better. But it gets a little more complicated by the fact that it is not the total amount of cholesterol that is important, but more the ratio of LDL to HDL. Too much LDL over a long period clearly has an adverse effect on your health and your risk for disease, as does too little HDL. Doctors at the Joint British Societies (a group of UK expert societies) state that a recommended total cholesterol level of less than 4 mmol/L, for HDL cholesterol together with an LDL cholesterol level of less than 2 mmol/L is the best ratio for optimum health.

A further way of assessing risk factors which by some, is considered more accurate, is to work out the total cholesterol to HDL cholesterol ratio (total chol/HDL). This is calculated by dividing the total cholesterol by the HDL cholesterol to give a number. The higher the ratio will indicates a higher risk of  stroke or heart attack, whereas a lower number shows a lower risk. High total cholesterol and low HDL is undesirable because of future health risks, while high HDL levels and low total cholesterol lowers the ratio and is better for your longer term well-being.

Studies show that the UK has highest average statistics for cholesterol levels throughout the world, and that lifestyle factors like high saturated fat in the diet, and lack of exercise, are contributory reasons. Whilst cholesterol figures are significant and need regular checks they do give an indication of risk,  but your doctor will also take other lifestyle factors into consideration in any given case. Factors to consider include age, gender, your family history of high blood pressure , diabetes or heart disease as well as smoking and your current diet.