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What is Cholesterol?

Productive researches on the structure of cholesterol begin only in the twentieth century, though the cholesterol itself was isolated as early as 1770. The history of its researches dates back to 1903, when the so-called Father of Steroid Chemistry - Adolf Windaus – (a young German chemist) decided to concentrate on finding the molecular composition of the compound and finally worked out a detailed structure for cholesterol (the research gave the background for his earning the 1928 Nobel Prize in chemistry). He reported that atherosclerotic plaques from aortas of human subjects contained 20- to 26-fold higher concentrations of cholesterol than did normal aortas.

Three years later, the Russian pathologist Nikolai Anitschov discovered that if consume the pure cholesterol (he fed the rabbits) it leads to hypercholesterolemia and severe atherosclerosis of the aorta.

But when in early 1930s the new technologies in the world of science gave the cholesterol research a new look at the molecular composition the correct structure of the cholesterol was determined. It was possible thanks to x-ray analysis and was made by Heinrich Wieland (Windaus' colleague).

In 1938 the first genetic connection between cholesterol and heart attacks was made. Norwegian clinician Carl Müller described several families in which high blood-cholesterol levels and premature heart attacks together were an inherited feature.

Several researches of cholesterol led to an intense effort in the 1950s to determine the process by which cholesterol was synthesized in the body. In 1951 the American chemist Robert B. Woodward and others completed that work when he synthesized cholesterol starting with simple compounds. Robert soon was awarded the 1965 Nobel Prize in chemistry (for his crucial works in synthesizing large molecule compounds).

Next step to further understanding of the nature of cholesterol was made in 1955 by John Gofman, a biophysicist at the University of California at Berkeley, who used the newly developed ultracentrifuge to separate plasma lipoproteins by flotation. He found out that heart attacks are correlated with elevated levels of cholesterol and that heart attacks were less frequent when the blood contained elevated levels of another cholesterol-carrying lipoprotein (HDL).

The epidemiologic connection between blood cholesterol and coronary atherosclerosis was made by Ancel Keys, a physiologist at the University of Minnesota.

Nearly 100 years of research on cholesterol has led to the understanding of the whole matter of its functioning, but the researches are still going on, discovering new useful facts. Akira Endo (a Japanese scientist), Joseph Goldstein and Michael Brown, and other scientists made a big work to it.

So, what is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a sterol lipid found in the cell membranes of the body tissues, and its transported in the blood plasma of all animals (a major group of organisms).

The word has a Greek origin: chole-meaning ‘bile’, stereos – ‘solid’ and the chemical suffix –ol.

In other words cholesterol is a soft, waxy substance made by the body (by the liver and other organs) and consumed in food products of animals. Our body needs cholesterol for functions as it is used in the manufacture of hormones, bile acid, and vitamin D. It is present in all parts of the body, including the nervous system, muscle, skin, liver, intestines, and heart. Most of the cholesterol is synthesized by the body, some has dietary origin.

To sum up you really need cholesterol for the following:

- to make hormones (they influence the growth of cells, bones, muscles, and other organs and are the body’s chemical messengers);

- to make vitamin D (it is a fat-soluble vitamin that is stored in the body and is necessary for calcium absorption and bone development);

- to make substances that help you digest foods.

Actually, our body makes all the cholesterol that it needs, but some of it is found only in the food you eat.

How does it travel through the body?

It travels in the bloodstream throughout the whole your body. As blood is watery and cholesterol is fatty to do that the second one travels in small packages called lipoproteins. These packages are made of fat (or lipid) on the inside and proteins on the outside. There are two kinds of those packages (lipoproteins): low-density lipoprotein and high- density lipoprotein. For good functioning of your body it is very important to have healthy levels of both lipoproteins.

What should you do to keep it right?
  1. Through away you cigarettes. Right now. This is another reason for you to give up smoking different tobacco product.
  2. Start doing exercise, regular physical activity has lots of benefits. It the question with cholesterol it is irreplaceable.
  3. Eat more of healthy low-fat food, such as vegetables and fruits.
  4. Limit your alcohol consumption.
  5. If healthy eating and exercise don't work after about 6 months to 1 year you probably need another option.

Your doctor may suggest you medicine depending on your risk factors to lower your cholesterol level. But even while taking the medicine you should keep up with your lifestyle changes – healthy food and physical activity is a must with you. Your doctor may prescribe you one of the medicine or combinations of these medicines: Statins, Resins, Fibrates, Niacin, Cholesterol absorption inhibitors and others. They help lower your cholesterol level.

Rate this Article

Yes, there is common opinion that high cholesterol is bad and dangerous for your body. Social mess about the cholesterol level sometimes leads to the false conclusions. Our body needs cholesterol, and even high cholesterol can be useful and good, for example for your brain. It is very important in questions of the ability to stay focused on the task at hand, or to switch successfully between different types of task. So, while gaining one profit from medications - benefits to your cardiovascular health – you will almost certainly gain some side effects and problems with your cognition. The conclusion is obvious – everything has both sides: good and bad. Take care of your health while you are young and of your cholesterol in natural way.

Valentyna Ant.


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