Should You Be Worried About Cholesterol?
Some of us might have heard differing views about cholesterol – ‘cholesterol is good for you’ or ‘no, no it is bad for you’.
Is cholesterol good or bad? Should we worry about cholesterol in food, or is fat distribution in our bodies a greater concern? We will try to address some of these in this article.
What exactly is cholesterol/LDL? What does it do?
Cholesterol is a waxy substance that is made in our liver. It also comes from certain foods. Cholesterol comes from the Greek word – chole (bile) and stereos (solid). The term ‘cholesterine’ was so coined in 1815 by Michel Eugene. Cholesterol is an essential component of cell membranes and of many hormones.
Cholesterol has many forms such as LDL, HDL and triglycerides, and it is important that you know the levels of each.
LDL has been labelled as ‘bad’ because, while it supplies cholesterol from the liver to elsewhere in the body for essential functions, when excessive fat accumulates in the inner layers of the blood vessels, it causes clogging in the vessels (known as ‘atherosclerosis’). This reduces blood flow, contributing to heart and stroke disease.
Where does your cholesterol come from? How does bad cholesterol affect you?
Most of the cholesterol in the body is made by your liver but you get some from your diet as well.
The liver produces more cholesterol when we eat a diet high in saturated and trans fats. If you have unhealthy cholesterol levels, elevated blood pressure and diabetes, and you smoke, then you have a higher risk of early and severe heart disease.
Other factors also play a part, such as your genes, diet, lifestyle, weight, age and ethnicity (for instance, South Asians are a higher risk group).
Does it matter where your fat is distributed?
Yes it does. There is emerging evidence (published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, by Lee et al.) that if you have a higher volume of fat in your abdomen, your risk of heart and vascular disease is actually higher than your risk prediction based only on BMI (body mass index) or waist circumference.
This data was obtained from 1,106 patients followed up over 6 years in the renowned Framingham Heart Study, though we do not know if this is so with different ethnicities.
Your risk of having diabetes, heart disease or stroke depends on the distribution of the fat in your body. A higher volume of fat in the abdomen may be especially harmful. CT scans or MRI scans may be the best way to measure this ‘bad fat’.
This article first appeared on Healthplus