Thursday, December 4, 2008

Another correcting misconception day – about cholesterol

“Cholesterol is a steroid that is harmful to the body because it causes heart ailments”. This is a very common misconception found in many biology textbooks. It is always mentioned in relation to the chemicals making up cells.

The correction is: Cholesterol is only harmful if present in large amounts. Cholesterol per se is not harmful. In fact it is needed for synthesis of steroid hormones and for maintaining the fluidity of cell membranes.

We have to be aware that there are two kinds of cholesterol in our body: LDL (low density lipoprotein) cholesterol or the “bad” cholesterol and HDL (high density lipoprotein) or the “good” cholesterol. When too much LDL or “bad” cholesterol circulates in the blood, it can clog arteries and increase our risk of heart attack and stroke. HDL or “good” cholesterol on the other hand helps remove the “bad” cholesterol from our arteries.

We also have to be aware that most (about 75 %) of the cholesterol we have is actually produced naturally by our own liver. Only a small amount (25%) comes from the food that we eat. Unfortunately, many people inherit genes from their parents or even grandparents that cause them to make too much LDL. Inheritance plus the kind of food that we eat can therefore cause high LDLs in our blood and this is the one that triggers ailments of our circulatory system.

If high blood cholesterol runs in our family, therefore, a change in lifestyle (like watching our diet and refraining from smoking) plus some medications will probably be needed.

One more thing, if high blood LDL runs in our family, then it is important to watch the diet even of children because deposit of fatty plaques in the arteries starts even in childhood and slowly builds up as we grow older.

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