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From Raves to Reality Check: Understanding Cholesterol

Updated: Jun 21

Cholesterol written on a blackboard

As I have become older, the topics of conversation at social parties has changed a great deal!

Friends who once spoke of Raves and Gigs and Dire Straits and Glastonbury are now talking more about their back pain and heart stents and one of the most common topic is boring old Cholesterol!

I’ve heard so many myths about cholesterol and especially cholesterol lowering, some funny but many cause me worry and are able to cause harm. So, let's clear the air and get the real story on this essential, yet often misunderstood, molecule.

Cholesterol: Not Just From Greasy Burgers

Graphic depicting cholesterol in the blood

Firstly cholesterol is made naturally in your body. It's crucial for many functions, from building cell walls to aiding vitamin absorption (think vitamins D, A, E, and K).

I like eating chips and cheesy burgers (although I try and avoid them whenever will power allows!) - your body produces cholesterol during digestion, as the food gets broken down in the saliva, your upper intestine - and produces cholesterol, fatty acids, triglycerides and lots of other fatty products.

The Packaging Problem: Lipoproteins

Imagine cholesterol as cargo needing delivery throughout your body. That's where lipoproteins come in, like tiny trucks transporting these fatty substances. 

These products are used for making cell membranes and other important essential stuff like giving us the energy we require to live.

To be able to do this, they need to be packaged up like your Amazon delivery and transported to your tissues where they are needed. Excess amounts of these are stored in your fat tissues - like goods in the warehouse - to be mobilised when they are needed.

So the 'packaging' is done by small amazing chemicals called lipoproteins - and these are essential, otherwise transporting them through body would be impossible.

So you have heard of lipoproteins .. right? ... even if you don’t think you have!

HDL and LDL Cholesterol

There are many kinds but the two main types are:

  • LDL (Low-Density Lipoprotein): Often called "bad" cholesterol, LDL carries cholesterol to your tissues to be utilised. But when there's too much LDL, it can irritate blood vessel walls, potentially leading to fatty deposits and blockages.

  • HDL (High-Density Lipoprotein): The "good" cholesterol hero, HDL transports excess cholesterol back to the liver to be cleared. The higher your HDL, the better!

The cholesterol in your circulation is packaged into low density lipoprotein LDL, but when there’s a lot of cholesterol, it can irritate the lining of the blood vessel - and sets off a series of

events which leads to fatty deposits and blockages of blood clots - called thrombus or thrombii (if more than one).

LDL: The Delivery Guy, Not the Villain

So the poor LDL is blamed when all it’s doing is providing the 'packaging' - the real culprit is our dietary choices - as we are the ones who are ordering all the cholesterol from the Greasy Joe joint.

Graphic depicting cholesterol in a vein

The lower your cholesterol and the lower the LDL, the lesser the irritation to the internal lining of your blood vessels - and the fewer blockages.

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