Contrary to popular belief, a healthy cholesterol level is not a villain.
Your body needs a healthy cholesterol level to synthesize certain nutrients and hormones, construct the semi-permeable membranes around each of the 100 trillion cells that make up your body, and facilitate cell communication and memory in the brain.
Cholesterol moves through the body with the help of two proteins: LDL, or low-density lipoprotein, and HDL, or high-density lipoprotein. LDL carries ready-to-use cholesterol molecules that can be absorbed by cells that need it, and HDL picks up excess cholesterol and carries it back to the liver for recycling and excretion.
In the blood, LDL cholesterol is completely safe, and it’s impossible for your cells to absorb too much of it. LDL becomes unsafe only when it interacts with molecular fragments called free radicals. The effect of such interaction is that the LDL becomes oxidized.
The Dangers of Oxidized LDL Cholesterol
Unlike normal LDL cholesterol levels, oxidized LDL cholesterol has toxic effects on the cells it attaches to. This is especially troublesome when oxidized LDL penetrates the endothelial cells lining the arteries because it contributes to—and accelerates—the inflammatory process. Over time, increased inflammation leads to the formation of arterial plaque.
When you get down to it, though, the real problem is not cholesterol—it’s whether your body’s antioxidant system can effectively neutralize the free radicals that damage LDL cholesterol molecules.
Here’s what you need to remember about cholesterol: It’s a relative risk factor for cardiovascular problems and it’s influenced by other factors. It is not an absolute and independent heart risk factor in the same way that high blood pressure is.
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