Cholesterol is a waxy substance found naturally in the blood. The body needs a certain amount of cholesterol, however your liver usually makes all the cholesterol you need.
Cholesterol performs three main functions:
- It helps make the outer coating of cells, so that they are flexible and permeable.
- It makes up the bile acids that work to digest food in the intestine.
- It allows the body to make Vitamin D and hormones, like oestrogen in women and testosterone in men.
The cholesterol you ingest through your diet (red meat, processed meats, high fat cheese, butter, eggs) if eaten in excess, can lead to too much cholesterol building up in the blood. A high cholesterol level increases the risk of heart disease. Following a healthy diet and lifestyle can help to lower blood cholesterol, which is a risk factor in the development of heart disease.
Cholesterol levels vary from person to person and can be measured by a simple blood test.
The Good, The Bad & How Much Cholesterol is too Much?
In the blood, there are two main types of cholesterol – LDL or known as the bad cholesterol and HDL which is the good cholesterol. Together they form our total cholesterol .
- LDL cholesterol is the “bad” type of cholesterol. If there is too much LDL cholesterol in the blood, it can slowly build up in the arteries, making them narrower, which increases the risk of heart disease. The lower the LDL cholesterol, the lower the risk of heart disease.
- HDL cholesterol or the “good” cholesterol helps to remove excess cholesterol from the bloodstream and returns it to the liver where it is broken down and passed out of the body.