Originally published in Kingsport Times News in Health and Wellness – February 29, 2012
Cholesterol and Heart Disease Cholesterol helps your body build new cells, insulate nerves, and produce hormones. Normally the liver makes all the cholesterol the body needs but cholesterol also enters your body from food, such as animal-based foods like milk, eggs, and meat. Too much cholesterol in your body is a major risk factor for heart disease.
When there is too much cholesterol in your blood, it builds up in the walls of your arteries causing a process called atherosclerosis, a form of heart disease. The arteries become narrowed and blood flow to the heart muscle is slowed down or blocked. Blood carries oxygen to the heart, and if enough blood and oxygen cannot reach your heart, you may suffer chest pain. If the blood supply to a portion of the heart is completely cut off by a blockage, the result is a heart attack.
There are two forms of cholesterol that most Americans are familiar with: Low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad” cholesterol) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL or “good” cholesterol.) These are the forms in which cholesterol travels in the blood. LDL is the main source of artery-clogging plaque. HDL actually works to clear cholesterol from the arteries and transports it back to the liver to be eliminated in the stool. Triglycerides are another fat in our bloodstream. Though research is now showing that high levels of triglycerides may also be linked to heart disease, the connection is still controversial.
High cholesterol itself does not cause any symptoms so many people are unaware that their cholesterol levels are too high. Talk to your doctor and find out what your cholesterol numbers are because lowering cholesterol levels that are too high lessens the risk for developing heart disease and reduces the chance of a heart attack or dying of heart disease, even if you already have it.