General Health InformationDespite its bad press, cholesterol is actually necessary for the proper functioning of the body. Cholesterol is a natural lipid that is formed by the liver, and is used by the cells to build membranes, manufacture sex hormones, and is also necessary in the digestive process. Cholesterol is transported from the liver to various other parts of the body via lipoproteins. There are two main types of lipoproteins: low-density (LDL) and high-density (HDL). LDL is sometimes called "bad cholesterol" because it circulates lots of cholesterol throughout the body, whereas HDL, or "good cholesterol", carries very little.
Elevated blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels leads to fatty deposits (plaque) in the arteries that hinders the blood flow to the brain, kidneys, extremities, and heart. High cholesterol level is a primary cause of heart disease including high blood pressure, stroke, and heart attack. Some cancers, especially prostate and breast cancers have been linked to high serum cholesterol levels.
There are various factors that contribute to high LDL levels. Diets high in fats, especially animal fats and saturated fats, increase LDL levels in our bodies. Sugar, alcohol, caffeine, smoking, and stress all result in the overproduction of natural cholesterol, also. A low-fat high-fiber diet, along with a program of regular exercise and stress management, can do much to help lower cholesterol levels. All of the elements of a healthy lifestyle are vital to good cholesterol control.
Our bodies do need some fats on a regular basis to supply energy, make up the cell membranes, give us a sense of fullness, lubricate the intestines, and carry the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K in our body. Essential fatty acids (such as omega-3 and omega-6) are "good fats" which do this for us, and they may be consumed in our diets or as supplements. These essential fatty acids are found primarily in raw nuts, seeds, legumes, as well as the unsaturated vegetable oils such as borage oil, grape seed oil, primrose oil, sesame oil, and soybean oil. They are also found in deepwater fish, fish oil, as well as certain vegetable oils such as canola oil, flaxseed oil, and walnut oil.
There are herbs and nutritional supplements which can also help lower our cholesterol level. Garlic, fiber, red rice yeast, niacin, and soy isoflavones may all lower total cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Prevention is the key, but these supplements may be helpful if you see that your cholesterol level is beginning to rise.
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