Most people fear cholesterol, believing it is all bad. But new studies found that people actually need some cholesterol to be healthy.
MediCard president and CEO Dr. Nicky Montoya says, “People cannot live without cholesterol. Health risks increase when there are worse than good cholesterol in the body.”
Good and bad cholesterol
Cholesterol is a naturally occurring substance produced by the liver. The body transports cholesterol from the liver by coating it with a water-soluble “bubble” of a protein called lipoproteins.
Low-density lipoproteins (LDLs) carry cholesterol to the tissues. This is the “bad” cholesterol. High LDL levels are linked to an increased risk of heart disease.
High-density lipoproteins (HDLs) carry excess cholesterol back to the liver, which processes and excretes it. The more HDLs, “good” cholesterol, the body has, the lower the risk of heart disease.
Do we need cholesterol in our bodies?
Contrary to what many people think, the body actually needs a good amount of cholesterol to function properly. The liver produces about a thousand milligrams of cholesterol per day, the exact amount the body needs.
Cholesterol is essential for cell structure, healthy brain development, as well as to produce hormones like estrogen, testosterone, and adrenal hormones. It also boosts metabolism because cholesterol helps the body produce vitamin D. Cholesterol produces bile acids that help the body digest fat and absorb essential nutrients.
Dr. Montoya says, “A healthy HDL level may protect against heart attack and stroke. The more HDL you have, the lower your risk for developing heart disease.” Too much LDL, on the other hand, cause fatty buildups or plaques that narrow arteries, raising the risk for heart attack and stroke.
Too high LDL levels can cause atherosclerosis, a dangerous accumulation of cholesterol and other deposits on the walls of the arteries, reducing blood flow. That can lead to chest pain and heart attack if it occurs in the arteries of the heart and stroke if it occurs in the arteries of the brain.
A low cholesterol level can also cause health problems. “Some pregnant women with low total cholesterol are more likely to give birth prematurely and have babies with low birth weight. Low total cholesterol level has also been linked to cancer, hemorrhagic stroke, anxiety, and depression,” says Dr. Montoya. He recommends keeping the total cholesterol level under 200 mg/dl (milligrams per decilitre), about the average for adults.
What can you eat to stay healthy?
A normal cholesterol level can be maintained through a healthy lifestyle, the key to long life. High amounts of saturated fat, found in fatty meats, processed meats, junk foods, and baked goods like cakes, biscuits, and pastries, in the diet can increase cholesterol levels.
Lean meat and fish should be added to the diet at least twice a week. Two and a half hours of workout each week can also help lower bad cholesterol and increase good cholesterol.
Most importantly, Dr. Montoya advises against smoking as it damages the walls of the blood vessels resulting in the accumulation of fatty deposits.
He also recommends a regular cholesterol test, a blood test that measures the amount of cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood. A cholesterol test is essential, especially if a person has a family history of high cholesterol levels or heart disease, is overweight, drinks alcohol frequently, smokes, has diabetes, kidney disease, polycystic ovary syndrome, or underactive thyroid gland. He suggests testing every five years beginning at age 20.
To help people know their cholesterol levels, MediCard has free-standing clinics in key cities nationwide that offer blood cholesterol tests and consultations. Visit a MediCard clinic near you or check out their website, www.medicardphils.com, for more information.