Cholesterol is a certain type of fat that is produced inside human body by the liver. It is then transported to almost every tissue of the body. Cholesterol is a significant component of the cell membranes and a precursor of many other essential fats of the body. Cholesterol can also be provided to the body by means of the foods we eat. Cholesterol travels inside our body in the form of clusters known as lipoproteins.
What is LOW- and HIGH-density cholesterol?
LDL is commonly known as the LOW-density cholesterol and similarly, HDL is called the HIGH-density cholesterol. LDL and HDL are essentially the lipoproteins that transport cholesterol from the site of synthesis (liver) to the organs of the body.
HDL is responsible for transporting the cholesterol to the liver, adrenal glands, testes, and ovaries. For other organs, the responsibility is on LDL. So can you imagine how important LOW-density cholesterol is for our well-being? Our body cannot make essential cell membranes without these lipids. The normal tissue structure would distort in absence of LDL.
Then, why is LDL considered the enemy of our health?
Well, apart from being highly significant for transport of cholesterol, LDL possesses the quality of adhering to the damaged cells of the body to promote the growth of new cells. When your vessels are attacked by bacteria or viruses, cell death occurs and cholesterol (transported by LDL) is called to produce new cells at that site. Low-density lipoproteins have a waxy nature, and they tend to get stuck due to their sticky consistency and form plaques. This is why LDL is the common cause of atheromatous plaques that lead to a heart attack or stroke.
These deposits (clots) of LDL, if occurring in any of the heart vessels, can obstruct the blood flow in vessels, and result in ischemic heart attack. Such clots, if occurring, in the vessels of the brain will cause hemorrhage or rupture of the cranial vessel.
Other significant damages that LDL can do to our body include:
1. Inflammation of the vessel wall – The LDL deposited in the vessel wall is recognized as a foreign body and the mechanism of inflammation (war against this LDL) is set off. Large numbers of white blood cells, which are your defense cells, gather resulting in an even larger clot.
2. Toxic LDL – As the process of defense is initiated, white blood cells engulf this bad LDL. Now, the white cells are unable to digest this LDL, therefore, they oxidize it i.e., make it even more toxic and harmful to your body.
3. Plaque Formation – With the deposition of LDL and accumulation of white cells, a bump is created in the arterial wall that obstructs blood flow to or from the heart. This can be fatal in some cases.
4. Effects on memory – high cholesterol is a common cause of eventually leading to memory impairment, dementia, and short-term memory loss. Since high cholesterol levels lead to heart attacks and stroke, they have also been linked to memory issues.
5. Gallstones formation: Gallstones are stones present in the gallbladder. When cholesterol levels go high, they start depositing in the gallbladder. They result from a combination of bile cholesterol and bilirubin in the gallbladder, forming solid particles that may vary in size. If left untreated, they may require surgery for their removal. They cause severe pain and other symptoms such as nausea, backache, fever etc.
6. Numbness in the feet: When LDL cholesterol levels exceed, they harden arteries present in the limbs, which leads to numbness.
How does LOW cholesterol affect our general health and well-being?
Apart from the inflammatory process we just mentioned above, excess levels of LOW cholesterol has many other harmful effects on our body. For example;
• Blockage of cardiac vessels
• Angina Pain
• Transient ischemic stroke
• Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD) – decreased blood flow to the lower legs resulting in ischemia and may lead to amputation
• Decreased quality of life
• Increased risk of morbidity
• Increased risk of mortality
It is essential to maintain the levels of LDL within the normal limits; neither too low nor too high. People suffering from high levels of LDL need to make some permanent changes in their lifestyles like following the fat-free diet, exercise regimes and live in a stress and pollution-free environment.