Updated: Jan 14, 2020
We have always heard about cholesterol in the blood and typically think it is a bad thing. However, not everybody knows that cholesterol provides the building blocks for the synthesis of several hormones, and it is essential to fulfilling normal functions in the body. Still, too much of a good thing is not always a good thing. High levels of cholesterol are known to cause atherosclerosis and increase cardiovascular risk.
To understand the difference, we will talk about good cholesterol and bad cholesterol, and explore the molecular mechanism behind atherosclerosis. As you will see next, inflammation plays a significant role, and there are many ways to maintain healthy levels of cholesterol by following easy, affordable, and natural methods.
Good cholesterol and bad cholesterol
Cholesterol is a special type of lipid that is found in cell membranes throughout the body. The chemical structure of cholesterol has a particular ring that contributes to many functions in the outer layer of the cell, and the same ring is modified to create steroid hormones (testosterone, estrogen), bile and vitamin D.
In the blood, a significant portion of cholesterol is located in specialized structures called lipoproteins. These are complex molecules with an outer shell made of cholesterol, and they transport many fat-soluble substances throughout the body.
The so-called good and bad cholesterol are divided depending on the protein these complex structures have in their outer shell. These proteins serve as hooks that attach to cells and perform different functions. “Bad” cholesterol (LDL) is a type of lipoprotein that transports fatty acids from the liver to the rest of the tissues. Thus, it is responsible for the accumulation of fat in the blood vessels. “Good” cholesterol (HDL) clears our tissues from excess fatty acids, including the blood vessels.
Inflammation plays an important role
There’s much more to it than just “good” and “bad” cholesterol. Inflammation and free radicals play an essential role in the formation of atherosclerotic plaques. Excess LDL particles deposit fatty acids in the blood vessel wall and create a form of dysfunction in this structure, known as the endothelium. Endothelial dysfunction contributes to the formation of free radicals and inflammatory cytokines. LDL particles become oxidized and aggregated in the plaque, and a complex array of inflammatory reactions results in the creation of foam cells when our macrophages (immune cells in the body) try to digest LDL particles.
All of this results in growing plaques solid enough to reduce blood circulation but fragile enough to ultimately break and trigger blood clotting, which leads to heart attack, stroke, and other cardiovascular events.
Excess LDL cholesterol can be addressed by many natural means, including diet and exercise. They are usually enough to fix blood lipid problems when applied correctly. For example, increasing your daily intake of omega 3 is known to raise your levels of good cholesterol. Reducing your intake of saturated fats reduces your bad cholesterol, especially if you exercise regularly. That’s why, even though many patients may need to lower their blood lipids, medications are not the first choice to do that if you haven’t tried natural methods without side effects.