Cholesterol - vital all-rounder or menacing disease factor?

Cholesterol is a term that most people associate with illness. Too much cholesterol, it is said, is bad: whoever has it is in danger of getting diseases from the heart and circulation section. But what exactly is this cholesterol, why does man have it when it is bad? What happens if my cholesterol is too high and how can I protect myself from high cholesterol? And what does the cholesterol level have to do with my diet?

Cholesterol is a building block of life

First of all, cholesterol is a vital substance. It is not only present in the human body, but is found widely throughout the animal kingdom. He fulfills a basic function for the cell, which is the smallest building block of a living thing: cholesterol serves as a "softener" of their membrane. The membrane is a kind of closed bag that surrounds the cell and protects its contents from the outside world. It has to be a strong barrier, but it also has to be flexible. The so-called lipid bilayer, which makes up the membrane, would be a brittle, fragile structure without cholesterol. Only the small molecule gives it the soft, supple properties it needs.

In fact, in animals living in colder conditions, there is also a higher cholesterol content in the cell membrane: at lower temperatures, more "plasticizer" is needed. Thus, cholesterol is a basic building block of life. And since it is so universal, Mother Nature has entrusted the small "polycyclic aliphatic alcohol" that the chemist would classify with other tasks: in the liver, bile acid is made from the substance by chemical modification, which makes digestion easier for humans. Because the bile acids pass from the liver through the bile, where they are stored, and through the bile duct into the intestine, where they are always released when you bring food to you. As a "soap" they are able to dissolve the fatty nutrients and make them accessible to the body. In addition, chemical changes in cholesterol in human glands lead to the production of hormones called steroid hormones, including estrogen and testosterone.

Origin of the all-rounder cholesterol

Where does the human get the vital small molecule from? Again, the great importance of cholesterol is reflected in its many uses: it is so important for life, that the body can not only absorb this building block from the food, but is also able to produce it himself. And the small cholesterol factory in the body is quite diligent: one to two grams of the substance in one day is a proud achievement. And this production is actually sufficient to meet the need, even if humans would not feed cholesterol at all!

Is cholesterol harmful?

So far so good. Man needs cholesterol, why is it so often fatal to him now? The basic reason for this lies in the chemical properties of the building block: it is fat-soluble, but not water-soluble. Like the olive oil in pasta water, it would not dissolve in the blood, but form small fat pearls and attach themselves to the vessel walls. Basically, cholesterol is a "dangerous good" that is difficult to transport. Fortunately, nature has solved this problem through a special transport system: it has founded a kind of taxi company for all body fat. These "taxis" take the body fats, which include cholesterol, in certain places, transport them with the bloodstream and reload them at their destinations, without causing complications due to the insolubility of the fats. The taxis are special proteins that are able to bind the fats and pack them in such a way that they become soluble in the water (and therefore also in the blood). The loaded taxis are called "lipoproteins" because they consist of protein and fats (lipids).

Special taxis for special tasks: the "bad" and the "good" cholesterol

Now, not only for the various types of body fats (which include cholesterol, especially the so-called triglycerides) different taxis, but also each other for different routes. Two of these taxis, despite their peculiar names, have become well-known: HDL (high-density lipoprotein) and LDL (low-density lipoprotein). The former is also referred to as "good", the second as "bad" lipoprotein. Where do these ratings come from? First of all, both "taxis" differ in their tasks: the LDLs supply the cells with cholesterol, they transport this to the cells, while the HDLs absorb excess cholesterol and transport it to the liver. There it is converted into bile acid and (at least partially) eliminated with the food through the intestine. So HDL has a "cholesterol-lowering" effect in principle. Nevertheless, both forms appear in the total cholesterol measurement of the blood: but who has a lot of HDL and low LDL lives still healthier than if it were the other way around. Therefore, more importance is attached today to the ratio of the two cholesterol types in the blood than to the total cholesterol.

A lot of LDL causes arteriosclerosis

The main reason why LDL was declared a villain lies in another peculiarity of this transporter: If many of them are on the "road" (of the blood) on the way, it can easily happen that one of them is involved in an "accident", In this case, his entire cargo "fall on the road" and there, since it is no longer soluble, "stick". Then they can no longer fulfill their solution task, and the cholesterol they carry, now insoluble, deposits at the site of the "accident" in the vessel. Now it can come to a vicious circle: the vessel is vulnerable by the greasy surface at this point loses its flexibility. It comes to small damage, which are fixed by "construction crews". In the area of ​​the construction site, however, like on the highways, new accidents are made easier, with other LDLs dumping their dangerous goods on the street. Repeating this many times, it ultimately leads to a vessel with a thick wall made up of many cholesterol-containing, hardened layers, which can not stretch flexibly under load, but ruptures more easily. In addition, the diameter of the vessel is narrowed by the deposits. Arteriosclerosis develops.

Consequences of a bad HDL / LDL ratio

In addition to arteriosclerosis, it also leads to the formation of thrombi, ie deposits on the vessel inner wall. The consequences of both diseases are fatal: it leads to coronary heart disease (CHD), which reaches its peak in heart attack. Similarly, the thrombi may cause pulmonary embolism or stroke. The so-called intermittent claudication may also occur, an arterial occlusive disease.

Risk factors wrong diet and obesity

Malnutrition and obesity are two major risk factors, as they can easily trigger an over-enrichment of the blood. In addition, there is a lack of exercise and hereditary factors that alter fat metabolism, as well as thyroid disorders - they all increase the risk of being affected by the diseases mentioned above due to the deterioration of blood lipids.

Lower cholesterol

In order to lower an elevated cholesterol, there are two possibilities: on the one hand, it is possible to reduce the intake of cholesterol with the food, on the other hand one can inhibit the body's own production. The former is easier to reach and also completely harmless: the human body can raise its own cholesterol supply by its own production, so that a deficiency disease is not to be feared here. Much can be done through skillful, tasty and consistent change in dietary habits. However, if you want to restrict the body's own production of the small universal module, you must resort to medication.

Change diet - what should I pay attention to?

Cholesterol is first included only in animal foods. Secondly, it is naturally more abundant, the more greasy the food is. A true cholesterol bomb is the chicken egg, but only the egg yolk contains cholesterol. There is already as much cholesterol in an egg as the maximum recommended daily dose. Beware of "hidden" eggs, which are found for example in pasta and bakery products! But: whether the cholesterol from eggs can affect the blood cholesterol at all, is scientifically controversial.

Also, milk (and therefore butter) is an animal food and contains a lot of cholesterol. The use of lean dairy products can help here. Seafood such as shrimp are also true cholesterol bombs, and should be consumed in moderation. In principle, it is recommended to eat fiber rich and low in fat, if the blood lipid levels are above the normal value. A predominantly vegetarian diet is urgently advised. Regular moderate exercise (walking, swimming, cycling) also helps lower cholesterol.

Drug therapy - what happens here?

If nothing else helps, drugs that "trim" the fat balance of the blood can also be used. But beware! Again, one can not steal out of a change in his diet, because the drug therapy is at best an addition. As over-the-counter drugs, there are those in the pharmacy that contain artichoke extracts. These directly cause a decrease in LDL and an increase in HDL and also increase the bile flow, so that more cholesterol is consumed overall. Also garlic is also a cholesterol-lowering effect z written, and corresponding preparations are available in the pharmacy. In addition, there are still drugs that the doctor must prescribe. In any case, if the blood lipid levels are poor, consult a doctor for advice.

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