More that a million Americans die of heart disease each year. One of the major causes of this heart disease the high cholesterol levels in the blood.
Konrad Bloch and Feodor Lynen shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1964 for their discoveries concerning the mechanism and regulation of the cholesterol and fatty acid metabolism.
Cholesterol is a sterol (a combination steroid and alcohol) and a lipid found in the cell membranes of all body tissues. It is transported in the blood plasma of all animals. The average amount of blood cholesterol varies with age, typically rising gradually until one is about 60 years old.
In recent years, the somewhat imprecise term "bad cholesterol" has been used to refer to LDL (low-density lipoprotein) which, according to the lipid hypothesis, is thought to have harmful actions, and "good cholesterol" to refer to HDL (high-density lipoprotein), thought to have beneficial actions.
However, as today's testing methods determine LDL ("bad") and HDL ("good") cholesterol separately, this simplistic view has become somewhat outdated.
The American Heart Association provides a set of guidelines for total blood cholesterol levels and risk for heart disease. The desirable LDL level is considered to be less than 100 mg/dl. However the 1987 report of National Cholesterol Education Program suggest the total blood cholesterol level should be less 200 mg/dl normal blood cholesterol, if the cholesterol level is between 200 and 239 mg/dl it is considered borderline-high, and higher than 240 mg/dl is considered high cholesterol level.
Conditions with elevated concentrations of oxidized LDL particles are associated with fatty deposits forming on the walls of arteries, a condition known as Arteriosclerosis, which is considered the principal cause of coronary heart disease and other forms of cardiovascular disease.
In contrast, however, if LDL particle number is low and a large percentage of the HDL particles are high, then fatty deposits forming on the walls of the arteries are usually low, and can even be negative, for any given total cholesterol concentration.
Cholesterol is found in animal fats: all food containing animal fats contains cholesterol. Plants have trace amounts of cholesterol, so even a Vegan diet, which includes no animal foods, has traces of cholesterol.
Cholesterol is not necessarily dietary in origin, it can be turned into cholesterol by the liver from unburned food metabolites. The liver converts unburned food metabolites into very low density lipoproteins (VLDL) and secretes them into plasma where they are converted to low-density lipoprotein (LDL) particles and fatty acids, which can affect other body cells. There appear to be seasonal variations in cholesterol levels in humans because of the unburned food metabolites the amount of cholesterol is higher in winter.
Cholesterol is required to build and maintain cell membranes; it regulates membrane fluidity over a wider range of temperatures. Cholesterol also aids in the manufacture of bile (which stored in the gallbladder and helps digest fats), and is also important for the metabolism of fat-soluble vitamins, including vitamins A, D, E and K.
Cardiologists suggest that the public need to change its diet. To reduce cholesterol levels by lowering saturated animal fats and increasing polyunsaturated fats. Lowering cholesterol is a good start but it is far from all that is needed.
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