Cholesterol is both friend and foe. While we cannot live with out it, in extreme amounts it can kill us. The blood cholesterol level is the single most important factor in shaping a person's risk for heart disease. It does it by plugging up vital heart-nourishing arteries through the process called atherosclerosis.
Most heart attacks are linked to plaques, which are made up mostly of cholesterol and fat. Plaques are like patches. They are the body's response to damaged areas in arterial walls which are caused by free radicals, especially those found in oxidized cholesterol. The body responds to the nuisance by adding more and more “patches" to protect the area, causing the plaque to slowly expand. But in doing so it also slows the blood flow and may ultimately block the artery entirely.
When blood cholesterol levels are under 150 mg, early arterial damage usually heals quickly and the scars get smaller. But when cholesterol levels edge past 180, LDL-cholesterol begins to fasten itself to the vessel walls, causing atherosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries, and plaque formation).
Although cholesterol can be a problem it is also an essential for us to survive, but we do not have to eat it. The liver manufactures all the cholesterol the body needs. But most of us eat an additional 300 milligrams of cholesterol a day. It's this extra dietary cholesterol that causes a sizeable part of the problem.
Cholesterol never travels alone - in the blood it has different carriers. The heaviest carrier is HDL (high-density lipoprotein), known as the “good" cholesterol. HDL is protective because it removes cholesterol from arteries and takes it to the liver, where it is made into bile. The higher the HDL in the blood, the better the protection. Men with HDL over 75 mg are protected from heart attacks.
A simple way to calculate heart attack risk is to divide the total cholesterol by the HDL. Preferably it should be under 4.0. A lighter carrier, the LDL (low-density lipoprotein), is the “bad" one. LDL basically determines the rate at which cholesterol is deposited on artery walls. To be safe, LDL should be under 90 mg.
While there are other carriers, LDL and HDL are the two most important ones.
Even though the foe can kill us in excess, the friend is very important in the manufacturing and preservation of cell membranes. It regulates membrane flexibility over a wider variety of temperatures. Cholesterol also aids in the manufacture of bile (which stored in the gallbladder to help with the digestion of fats), and is also important for the metabolism of vitamins, including vitamins A, D, E and K. It is a major forerunner for the fusion of vitamin D and of the various hormones (which include estrogens, and testosterone).
Jason Hunter is a natural health advocate. He is webmaster of a natural health web site. For more information on cholesterol and how to lower it naturally Visit his web site at: Lower your Cholesterol Naturally