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Cholesterol is vital for the human body. It is involved in the structure of cell walls, as well as a variety of hormones. Additionally it is crucial for the synthesis of bile acid and constitutes a part of the energetic metabolism.
What is cholesterol?
It is a substance belonging to the lipids family, found in a completely natural state in our bodies and in some of the foods we ingest. It has an essential role in certain important bodily functions.
Functions of cholesterol
- It coats the neural connections in the brain, helping to form the synapses, or connections between them.
- It is involved in the formation of tissues and membranes.
- It takes part in the formation of vitamin D, which is essential for a good calcification of the bones.
- It is part of various hormones such as estrogen and testosterone
- It is part bile acid
- It is involved in energy metabolism
Therefore, the organism does require a small amount of cholesterol in order to function properly. However, inadequate food and lack of exercise as well as other factors may cause an increase in cholesterol known as LDL or "bad cholesterol" in the blood, which can easily "stick" to the walls of the blood vessels. This is called plaque.
Plaque can narrow the arteries or even obstruct them and cause atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease.
Cholesterol levels are measured in milligrammes per decilitre of blood (mg/dl). So that excess cholesterol does not accumulate in our arteries, balanced levels must be maintained in the blood, meaning higher HDL cholesterol and a lower LDL cholesterol level.
To clarify any and all questions with regard to this issue, we will now explain the different types of cholesterol, which of those we call good, which are bad and how each of them works. We will also list some of the supplements that can lower cholesterol most effectively and some effective tips to keep cholesterol within a healthy range.
Types of cholesterol - good cholesterol and bad cholesterol
When we eat food, the fat it contains also enters the organism, which it must therefore digest and transport to various tissues so that they may carry out their different functions. But this transportation is not easy to do since fats are not soluble in water and most of our blood consists of water. For that reason, in order for fat to "circulate" in the bloodstream it must be mixed with other substances that are soluble in water, such as some phospholipids and proteins.
This union results in the appearance of various types of lipoproteins which vary in composition, weight and function. In summary, a lipoprotein is a nucleus of fat (water insoluble) that is surrounded by proteins and phospholipids that are water-soluble in their exterior part.
Depending on the amount of proteins that are linked and the type of fat that covers them, lipoproteins will have a greater or lesser weight.
Fat has a lower density and many more lipids compared to protein or phospholipids. Lipoprotein is less heavy and is classed low density. Low density (LDL) lipoproteins are called bad cholesterol.
Unlike LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol is made up of lipoproteins, which have a greater density and collect excess cholesterol in the blood and transport it to the liver. Therefore, HDL cholesterol is also called "good" cholesterol.
In summary, there are four types of lipoproteins and all of them are important, as they are basically responsible for the transport of lipids in the body. But the most important of these in terms of health are high density lipoproteins (HDL, by its acronym, or alternatively "good" cholesterol) and low density lipoproteins (LDL by its acronym or "bad" cholesterol).
Bad cholesterol - low density lipoproteins
- These lipoproteins, although not in themselves harmful to the organism, have the mobilisation of cholesterol to the body's tissues as their main objective, a surplus of which can end up coated on the walls of veins and arteries.
- They have much more fat than protein
- This fat sticks to the elastin of the vein walls, which promotes atherosclerosis
Good cholesterol - high-density lipoproteins
- They contain proportionately more protein to fats.
- Proteins that have an affinity for the cholesterol and fats that may be circulating in the blood, and can thereby pick them up and transport them to the liver, where they are processed. This prevents lipids from coating the walls of veins and arteries, leading to plaque that can gradually block them up (atherosclerosis).
- They promote the mobilisation of "old cholesterol" for the creation of cell membranes.
- In a certain way it is responsible for cleaning the circulatory system of fats that are stuck to the walls of arteries and veins.
Tips for lowering cholesterol
To reduce LDL levels and raise HDL, we will need to:
- Reduce the consumption of processed foods high in saturated and trans fats (bakery prodcuts, pre-cooked and industrial pastry made with partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, or trans fat)
- Reduce the consumption of some foods that are rich in animal fats (meats, cured cheeses, butters, etc).
- Increase the consumption of fats of vegetable origin (olive oil, avocado, nuts, corn, peanuts, linseed, etc)
- Increase the consumption of fibre in our diet (fruits, vegetables, cereals, etc.)
- Exercising, walking or trying to do some physical activity daily
- Increasing the consumption of fish or products containing omega-3 fatty acids
- Keeping track of our weight, maintaining it at acceptable levels or losing it if necessary.
- Receive examinations on a regular basis including analysis of total cholesterol levels, as well as HDL and LDL cholesterol individually. In cases where the imbalances of lipoproteins may be due to metabolic or genetic factors, a doctor should determine the correct course of action, which can be applied in addition to the above recommendations in order to attain the hoped for results.
Natural products for lowering cholesterol
There are certain natural substances which due to their composition are beneficial in helping to lower LDL cholesterol levels and even in raising HDL levels. This is a list of the best products for lowering cholesterol levels:
- Omega-3 capsules: there are nutritional supplements that provide Omega-3 from animal (such as cod, salmon oil, krill oil) and vegetable sources (such as flaxseed, soybean or canola). Omega 3 is in the unsaturated fats category that raises HDL cholesterol levels and therefore reduces LDL. Omega 3 helps reduce high blood pressure and is anti-inflammatory and antioxidant.
- Red yeast rice: One of the best all-natural products for counteracting cholesterol. It is a type of substance which is known as monacolins, that have the ability to inhibit the synthesis of cholesterol by the liver. One of them, monacolin K, is the most important since it acts as a powerful blocker of HMG-CoA reductase, also known as lovastatin. Red yeast rice helps to prevents cholesterol from sticking to and accumulating on the insides of blood vessels, which causes the obstruction of their obstruction and leads to arteriosclerosis.
- Insositol: Inositol is another natural product that helps to reduce bad cholesterol. It is an organic substance, which in the past was considered part of the B group vitamin family. It promotes the proper distribution of fats and prevents LDL cholesterol from being deposited on the inside of the walls of veins and arteries.
- Policosanol: Policosanol is an anti-cholesterol product that is an effective alternative to many prescription drugs. It is a natural substance made up of a mixture of fatty alcohols in long chains (LCFA) that are extracted from sugar cane. These alcohols have powerful cholesterol-lowering properties, in other words they lower the overall levels cholesterol in the blood and of "bad" cholesterol or LDL.
- Soy lecithin: phospholipids, such as soy lecithin, prevent cholesterol deposits from appearing on arterial and venous walls. Extract of garlic: Garlic is a "superfood" with multiple benefits for health. Among them are vasodilatory effects which prevent cardiovascular diseases. But garlic is also a great help against high LDL cholesterol, providing an additional protection for cardiovascular health.
- Gugulipids: Guggul (commiphora mukul), also known as guggul resin is another natural product that is the most effective cholesterol reducer there is. It contains substances known as guggulsterones that work on a hormone receptor called farnesoid X or FXR which is involved in the conversion of fats into bile acids, the only way in which cholesterol can be eliminated from the body. What these natural substances do is promote this conversion and thereby increase the breakdown and excretion of cholesterol and other fats that circulate in the bloodstream in excessive amounts.
- Niacin: Niacin is part of the B complex vitamins. Its consumption in the form of nutritional supplement can help reduce LDL cholesterol and other blood fats such as triglycerides.
- Plant sterols: Also known as phytosterols/stanols and plant stanols. They are natural substances which only exist in reduced quantities in many foods that make up our daily diet: fruits and vegetables, vegetable oils, nuts and cereals. Plant sterols have a similar structure to cholesterol, but our bodies cannot absorb them. When they are consumed in larger amounts as part of a balanced diet, phytosterols prevent the absorption of cholesterol in the human intestine, bringing about a decrease in the concentrations of cholesterol in the blood.