What Is Cholesterol? Dr. Norman Swan

by | Healthy Living, Heart Attacks and Strokes

A blood test will let you know if you have cholesterol imbalance or not. After that speak to you doctor about a diet and lifestyle plant to ensure your levels remain healthy.

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is not one substance. It is a whole series of blood fats, a whole collection of blood fats. It’s incredibly complicated.

In your body, cholesterol is used to build up proteins and other things, but it’s particularly important for the membranes around your cells. So the membranes, think of membranes as the shrink wrap, which holds your cells together. And one of the prime uses of cholesterol in your body is actually to help form those membranes. So you do need it. But there are lots and lots of chemicals within cholesterol, which all have their own different functions, it’s incredibly complicated.

How Does it Work?

You would have heard of good and bad cholesterol. So good cholesterol, called high density lipoprotein cholesterol, consider it a bit like an Uber driver or a taxi, it comes to your arteries and pulls cholesterol out and takes it away into the system to be metabolised. By the way, cholesterol is largely produced in your liver, cholesterol in your diet is not absorbed as cholesterol, it’s absorbed as smaller blood fats and then it’s reconstructed into cholesterol.

The bad form is LDL. It is a whole group of different types of chemicals and is actually quite damaging. It’s taken up into the cell, makes it inflamed, and activates the immune response. This causes you to have like inflammation and scarring, in the same way as you might get a scar on your hand, and that shrinks down the blood vessel and makes it more friable and more likely to close off. When that happens in the heart or the brain, then you get a heart attack or a stroke.

Taking Cholesterol Controlling Medication

When you take cholesterol-lowering drugs, they’re actually LDL-lowering drugs, they’re drugs which lower the dangerous form of cholesterol, low density lipoprotein. How you can get your HDL up is exercise, stop smoking, maybe a little bit of alcohol can help with that, but the sort of healthy lifestyle gets your HDL up and your LDL down as well.

Dr Norman Swan, Physician and Journalist