Believe it or not, food contributes to only 20% of the cholesterol in your bloodstream. The rest is produced by your own body. And contrary to what you may believe, it is not as bad as it is often depicted to be.
There are many things about the body that we do not know, but cholesterol is surely not one of them.
Infamous for its role in creating heart disease, cholesterol is one of those elements that everyone fears. An excess of it in the bloodstream makes artery-clogging plaque, which, if accumulated, can cause a heart attack.
What is generally not known, however, is that while too much cholesterol is indeed harmful, your body still needs an optimum amount to maintain overall health and well-being.
As a matter of fact, those with very low cholesterol in their body are equally at risk of getting heart disease, a heart attack, or a stroke.
Additionally, while cholesterol production is generally measured in the blood, it is in fact found in every cell of the human body.
According to “Managing Your Cholesterol” – a Harvard Special Health Report, cholesterol is a kind of fat that is whitish-yellow in color and waxy in texture, and plays a crucial role in building and maintaining cell membranes.
Furthermore, it is used to make other essential elements in the body such as fat-dissolving bile-acids, hormones (including both estrogen and testosterone, and others such as estradiol, cortisol, and progesterone), and vitamin D (especially when the skin gets exposed to sunlight) – all of which make it all the more essential.
This is why your intestines and liver produce over 80% of the total cholesterol present in your body, while a mere 20% comes from the foods you consume.
While the liver is primarily responsible for producing cholesterol in your body, some cholesterol is also produced by the lining of the small intestine and the various cells of the body.
Let's explain how the body produces cholesterol in a better way, with the help of an example:
If your daily intake of cholesterol is 200-300 milligrams (mg) (for the sake of reference, an egg yolk contains about 200 mg), your liver (mostly) and intestines (to a lesser extent) will produce an additional 800 milligrams daily from raw materials present in your body such as sugars, proteins, and fat.
Cholesterol cannot travel in the bloodstream on its own. Being a fat, it would end up becoming useless globs, much like bacon fat floating in a pot of water.
In order to avoid this rather undesirable outcome, the body packs cholesterol, along with other lipids, into tiny protein-covered particles which can easily mix with blood.
Called lipoproteins (lipids + protein), these particles help move the otherwise insoluble cholesterol and fats throughout your body.
There are many different kinds of cholesterol and lipids that circulate in the bloodstream, determined by the amount of protein present in comparison to fat content. The most well-known among these is Low Density Lipoprotein.
More popularly known as LDL, this is the infamous variant of cholesterol – the “bad” cholesterol your doctor warns you about – that causes heart diseases.
They are not, however, the only kind of lipoproteins. In fact, lipoproteins come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, each of which has a specific task assigned to it. Furthermore, various kinds of cholesterol can also morph from one form into another.
The 5 Main Forms Of Lipoproteins
Extremely large in size, Chylomicrons carry triglycerides (i.e. fatty acids which come from your food). Given the fact that they are made in the digestive system, they are heavily influenced by your diet and eating habits.
Very Low Density Lipoprotein (VLDL)
While these particles carry triglycerides to tissues as well, they are produced by the liver instead of the digestive system.
The cells of your body extract fatty acids from these particles, which turn them first into Intermediate Density Lipoproteins, and after further extraction, into Low Density Lipoproteins.
Intermediate Density lipoprotein (IDL)
After extraction of fatty acids from VLDLs, they turn into Intermediate Density Lipoproteins. While many of these are sent over by the liver for excretion, there are some from which more fatty acids are extracted, which later turn into low-density lipoproteins.
Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL)
These particles are much richer in pure cholesterol, given the fact that the number of triglycerides present in them is next to none. Infamous for being the “bad” type of cholesterol, this is the variety whose excess contributes to artery-clogging plaque.
Composed almost entirely of fat, LDLs constitute about 70% of the cholesterol that circulates in the bloodstream.
They have a tendency to get deposited in the arteries, which leads to atherosclerosis – a condition where the arteries become harder and narrower, which makes the heart vulnerable to diseases.
High Density Lipoprotein (HDL)
The quintessential “good” cholesterol, these particles help remove cholesterol (the low density variety) from artery walls and from circulation in the body. It then returns the LDLs to the liver so that they can be safely excreted.
HDLs constitute about 20% of your body's cholesterol, and their actions help prevent atherosclerosis.
How The Body Produces Cholesterol Final Words
Cholesterol as a whole is no “big bad villain,” but a vital element that your body needs to keep itself functioning smoothly. While cholesterol does come from the foods you eat (specifically dairy products, poultry, and meat), the larger percentage is in fact produced by your own body.
That said, there is an inverse relationship between the two. When you consume less cholesterol, your body produces more, and vice versa. In order to maintain a healthy body, you must make sure that you have balanced cholesterol levels in your body.
As mentioned already, both high and low levels of cholesterol put you at a risk of contracting deadly diseases, especially those related to your circulatory system.
There are many ways to control the amount of cholesterol that is produced in your body. By altering your diet, maintaining a proper weight, exercising regularly, and avoiding bad habits such as excessive drinking and smoking, you can easily prevent the build-up of LDLs in your body that cause heart diseases and other circulatory problems.