The heart is obviously one of the most important organs in your body. It pumps blood to every cell in your body and helps to take the wastes away. It is crucial that the heart remains healthy and is able to pump bloody without failure. The best way to achieve this is have a healthy diet. Unfortunately, few people have a totally healthy diet, and there are foods taken in that can lead to serious complications for the heart.
Cholesterol is a word that seems to strike fear into a lot of people's psyche. When they hear that word, images of people with heart attacks instantly spring to mind. The result of this is they try to avoid ANY food with ANY cholesterol in it. But is it always bad? Believe it or not, there are a few misconceptions surrounding this. This article will give a light-hearted (no pun intended!) and amusing explanation of how cholesterol functions in our body using a military context. It will then give a more detailed explanation of cholesterol.
Your Circulation System - The key infrastructure to your body
How could a country function without a well-developed system of roads? Very poorly actually! Try to think of your blood stream as a series of highways inside your body to not only deliver vital goods to all parts of your body (such as oxygen), but it also removes all the bad "garbage" as well. The heart makes sure all of this functions properly.
LDL Cholesterol - The Bad Guys!
LDL cholesterol is a series of molecules that are bad for your body and if left unchecked, can eventually kill you. For this example, I want you to think of these guys as the "terrorists". These guys have entered your "country" (i.e. your body) illegally with the intent of causing serious damage to its "infrastructure" such as the circulation system. They feel that is the best way to bring your body down! They've entered the country disguised or hidden in fatty and greasy foods like fried chicken, French fries, butter, eggs, thick and juicy steaks etc. Pretty good strategy to defeat the body's "customs" actually when you think about it...coming in with food everyone loves and consumes readily!
Their "mission" is to lay the groundwork for causing harm to your body in the form of a heart attack or stroke, or even both at the same time. They are fanatical and must be stopped, but how does your body do this?
HDL Cholesterol - The Department of Homeland Security (aka the Good Guys!)
It may seem hard to believe, but the best way to fight the bad cholesterol is actually with cholesterol. HDL is commonly called "good cholesterol" and it's true. These guys' job is to find and attack the LDL terrorists that have invaded your body. When they find them, they attach themselves to them, "arrest" them (usually for "loitering with intent") and escort them away. They take them to the liver, which is like Guantanamo Bay, where the LDL are "interrogated" (which means they are broken down into harmless molecules) and are now effectively neutralised. Do they stay in the "country"? No! Even though they are no longer considered a direct "threat", they generally leave on the first "flight" out of the body, and are eventually flushed down the toilet where they belong. Hooray for the Good Guys!
The Different Types of Cholesterol Explained
Now that you can get an idea of how the battle to control cholesterol works, it's time to learn about them in a bit more detail. LDL stands for Low Density Lipoproteins. Because they are of a low density in the bloodstream, it tends to thicken the blood slightly to the point where the heart needs to pump a bit harder to keep the flow going steadily. Think of it this way, which is easier to get through a straw, water or a thick shake?
What happens with LDL is that it starts to stick to the walls of the circulatory system, especially the arteries. This buildup on the walls is called "plaque". Over time, the walls start to restrict the amount of blood coming through the artery, which means less oxygen can reach the cells. The result of this is that the heart needs to work harder to pump more blood through, so it eventually gets tired. If left for too long, the artery can get completely blocked and prevent any blood from getting through. This is what leads to heart attacks.
When the walls of your arteries start getting coated in plaque, a piece of plaque can break off and lodge itself somewhere causing a blockage. Again, this can lead to a heart attack, but it this piece lodges in an artery in the brain and causes a blockage, it can cause a stroke. This can be very debilitating!
HDL stands for High Density Lipoproteins and do not cause blockages due to their higher densities. It is important to include in your diet foods that have a good level of HDL. The more HDL in your body, the easier it is for your body to get rid of the LDL. The best sources of the good cholesterol come from mono and polyunsaturated fats and oils, such as avocadoes, nuts, olive oil, etc. The chemistry behind this is far too complicated for this article, but it is definitely worth investigating foods with good levels of the good cholesterol. It is always best to talk to your doctor and/or a nutritionist to see if your diet is adequate.
Now that you know how to fight the "terrorists", take a look at your diet. Having some LDL in your body is not harmful at all, especially if you lead a healthy and active lifestyle. By doing this, you don't give the "terrorists" a chance to do any damage and will eventually be "arrested", "re-educated" and broken down to a less harmful form, and then "deported". Just remember, cholesterol isn't always something that needs to be avoided at all costs. If you know how it works in your body, you can then make sure you adjust your lifestyle accordingly (if required). Your doctor can also check your blood to make sure there is a good ratio of HDL to LDL. As long as the "good guys" outnumber the "bad guys", you should be ok!