Cholesterol: the good, the bad and the ugly


 By Fanta Fofana

Cholesterol isn’t just something that sits in your body like fat around your waist. It’s carried through your bloodstream as well. Cholesterol is a waxy fat like substance that occurs naturally in all parts of the body and is vital for the normal functioning of the body.



Our bodies synthesize cholesterol and convert it to other important substances but most of the cholesterols we have in our bodies are taken from the food we ingest. Ingested cholesterol is then converted to a form which is poorly absorbed and in other for it to be transported in water out of cells it is attached to lipoproteins.
Most of us do get the palpitations when we hear about cholesterol but it is surely a good substance for our bodies.


The only reason we fear it is that like every other substance in our bodies, too much of cholesterol increases your chances of getting sick. Cholesterol is required for the membrane building and maintenance of all cells in animals. It is used to form vitamin D, hormones and other substances.
Since it is found in the cell membranes of animal cells, all animals will manufacture it. Major dietary sources of cholesterol include cheese, egg yolk, beef, pork, fish, shrimp. Foods such as Avocado, groundnut have plant origin and compete with cholesterol for absorption thereby lowering cholesterol absorption.
As an adult over 20 years of age, it is important we check our cholesterol levels every five years. So how do we measure the cholesterol in our bodies? This is where LDL and HDL come into play. LDL stands for Low Density Lipoprotein and it is responsible for transporting ingested and synthesized cholesterol into cells. HDL is High Density Lipoprotein and it transports free cholesterol to cells in the body.


The good
HDL particles also known as ‘good cholesterol ‘are thought to transport cholesterol back to the liver, either for excretion or for other tissues that synthesize hormones. Large numbers of HDL particles correlates with better health outcomes whereas low numbers of HDL particles is associated with disease progression in arteries. The first time I heard this it was pretty ironic to me.


I thought all cholesterol and their transport forms were bad and then we are being told that it has some good to it. Well the HDL is sort of the prison officer who wants inmate to stay indoors so as soon as he spots you roaming the streets he takes you back to where you have to be. So the more prison officers we have, the lesser the chances of inmates being found in the streets. It’s the same concept here in the sense that HDL makes sure all free cholesterol in blood is taken safely to the liver. Therefore, if we have large numbers of HDL, we are certain that the situation is under control.


The bad
LDL particles also known as ‘bad cholesterol’ are the major blood cholesterol carriers. Each one contains approximately 1500 molecules of cholesterol. This transports cholesterol to cells in the cells of the body. However, when the cells have taken the required cholesterol that they need they stop the uptake of cholesterol and then LDL has nowhere to run to but stay in blood. When our LDL cholesterol is high in blood, it can combine with other substances in blood and stick to the wall of arteries. This is called plaque. Plaque can narrow your arteries or even block them.


The ugly
A high LDL increases the risk for cardiovascular diseases. This is what is dubbed as ‘the ugly’. When there is high LDL in blood, a plaque may be formed as mentioned earlier. This plaque is an occlusion which makes the arteries narrower but the greatest trouble is when the plaque ruptures leading to the formation of a clot in the blood vessel and complete occlusion of the vessel. This can cause myocardial infarction, stroke and other vascular disease complications. Now the ugly truth is that most times we are to blame. May be if we ate dinner a little earlier, or cut down on beef, had one egg a day for at least a four days in the week some of it could have been avoided.
There are a lot of factors that can increase our risk for having high cholesterol. They include eating foods high in cholesterol, genetics or family history, obesity, age (the more you age the more your cholesterol levels increase), smoking, diabetes, inadequate exercise. Most of these are lifestyle choices that put us at risk. The question is how did we allow non communicable diseases and their risk factors be the order of the day when we are still struggling with the communicable diseases battle?