Wednesday, 29 August 2007

Cholesterol 101

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The list of health benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids seemingly grows every day. Among the more well-known positive effects this fatty acid has on the body is that has been shown to reduce the risk of heart attack by 36 percent when it is consumed at least once or twice a week. Foods that are high in Omega-3s -- such as salmon, brown rice, and olive oil -- can also help to lower your LDL ("bad") cholesterol. But, inasmuch as many of us know this by now, what we don't know is how this actually takes place. What is cholesterol? And how does it effect our bodies? Now I'm not a doctor, and I'm definitely not a scientist, but I am curious -- so I looked it up.

Cholesterol is made by the liver. Just about every animal that is eaten for food produces cholesterol in this manner. After it's produced in your own body, or absorbed from the food you eat, it's then carried through the bloodstream by particles known as lipoproteins. These particles are also produced in the liver, so it kind of works out quite nicely in that way. Anyway, from these lipoproteins are made up of fat and protein. However, what they contain more of determines if they are "bad" or "good." If they contain a higher proportion of fat, they can stick to your blood vessel walls as they speed through your veins and arteries. Over time, this accumulates and forms hardened plaque, thus reducing the flow of blood to your heart -- and hence the "bad" label. On the other hand, lipoproteins that contain a higher proportion of protein serve a different and much healthier function. Their main task is to carry cholesterol away from your heart and out of the body. The higher your levels of this "good" lipoproteins, the lower your risk of dying from a heart attack.

That's just about the best way I can explain it. Not exactly ready for the New England Journal of Medicine, but not bad for a blog post, if I say so myself.

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