What is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a natural component of our body, used as structural material, in order to create its cell membranes. It is even necessary for the synthesis of certain hormones, such as cortisol, estrogens and testosterone. Cholesterol is vital to our lives.
How is cholesterol produced in our body?
The vast majority (2/3) is produced in our liver, while we intake the rest (1/3) from our food.
Cholesterol does not circulate freely in the blood, but is transported via specific proteins, called lipoproteins. Lipoproteins are the medium transfering Cholesterol to the organs that need it, through our gut or liver. Two of these lipoproteins are: Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL) and High Density Lipoprotein (HDL).
Is total cholesterol circulating in our blood damaging when elevated?
No. Total blood cholesterol consists of LDL (bad) and HDL (good) cholesterol. The majority of total cholesterol is "Bad" and is found in a transport vehicle called LDL, damaging our blood vessels. So, the more "bad" (LDL) cholesterol we have, the more the risk we are exposed to develop cardiovascular disease. On the contrary, "good" cholesterol is found in the transport vehicle called HDL. "Good" (HDL) cholesterol protects against cardiovascular diseases because it collects the excess cholesterol that has settled in our blood vessels walls and takes it back to the liver. Therefore, the more "good" (HDL) cholesterol we have, the less we are in danger to develop cardiovascular disease. So, it is not enough to know only the total cholesterol that circulates in our blood, we also need to know how much of it is "good" and how much is "bad".
How do we know how much cholesterol runs in our blood?
With a simple blood examination. Fasting at least 12 hours before the test (only drinking water or taking our pills is allowed) is a prerequisite of the examination. So, if we plan to make the examination at 9 am, then from 9 in the evening of the previous day we should not eat or drink anything except water. Diabetic patients should not take their pill or make an insulin injection the morning of the examination because they run a risk to develop hypoglycaemia.
The lab measures the amount of total cholesterol, "good" (HDL) cholesterol and triglycerides. Cholesterol is measured in milligrams per deciliter (mg / dL). The lab does not directly measure "bad" (LDL) cholesterol. The calculation of "bad" (LDL) cholesterol is done in 3 steps:
We divide triglycerides by 5
We add the "good" (HDL) cholesterol to the result of the division
We remove this sum from total cholesterol results
It should be noted that if triglycerides are over 400 mg / dL we can not apply this rule.
When do I have to test my Cholesterol levels?
Everyone over the age of 20 should check their lipid levels (total cholesterol, "good" (HDL) cholesterol, "bad" (LDL) cholesterol and triglyceride). If these are within the desired limits, they should be checked around every 5 years. However, if the levels of cholesterol are increased then the frequency of the examination must be determined by your doctor. When we know that increased cholesterol levels are a result of an inherited disease, it is likely that the doctor will recommend the examination of children in the family.