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You get cholesterol in two ways. Your body makes some of it, and the rest comes from animal products that you eat, such as meats, poultry, fish, eggs, butter, cheese and whole milk. Food from plants — like fruits, vegetables and cereals — do not have cholesterol. Some foods that don't contain animal products may contain trans-fats, which cause your body to make more cholesterol. Foods with saturated fats also cause the body to make more cholesterol.
Cholesterol and other fats can't dissolve in the blood. They have to be transported to and from the cells by special carriers called lipoproteins.
There are three types of lipoproteins:
1. Very Low Density Lipoproteins (VLDL)
2. Low Density Lipoproteins (LDL)
3. High Density Lipoproteins (HDL)
Under normal circumstances, the bloodstream does a very efficient job of carrying the LDL and HDL Lipoproteins throughout the body.
Problems of High Cholesterol
Where problems arise is when there is an over abundance of cholesterol in your bloodstream. The cholesterol deposited by the LDL leads to a narrowing of the blood vessels. If this occurs, the excess can be deposited in the arteries of the heart which could result in stroke or heart disease. This is called atherosclerosis. This is why LDL is known as “bad cholesterol.”
HDL usually collects the bad cholesterol and takes it back to the liver. That’s why HDL is known as “good cholesterol.”
Cholesterol is not the only cause of heart disease, but it is a contributing factor. Here’s how it works.
Cholesterol can only attach to the inner lining of the artery if it has been damaged. Once the lining of the artery is damaged, white blood cells rush to the site followed by cholesterol, calcium and cellular debris. The muscle cells around the artery are altered and also accumulate it. The fatty streaks in the arteries continue to develop and bulge into the arteries. This cholesterol “bulge” is then covered by a scar that produces a hard coat or shell over the cholesterol and cell mixture. It is this collection of cholesterol that is then covered by a scar that is called “plaque.”
The buildup of plaque narrows the space in the arteries through which blood can flow, decreasing the supply of oxygen and nutrients. This cuts down the supply of blood and oxygen to the tissues that are fed by that blood vessel. The elasticity of the blood vessel is reduced and the arteries’ ability to control blood pressure is compromised.
If there is not enough oxygen carrying blood passing through the narrowed arteries, the heart may give you a pain that is called angina. The pain usually happens when you exercise because at that time your heart requires more oxygen. Usually it is felt in the chest or the left arm and shoulder, although it can happen without any symptoms at all.
Plaque can vary in size as well as shape. All through the coronary arteries you can find many small plaques that cover less than half of an artery opening. Some of these plaques are completely invisible in the tests that doctors use to identify heart disease.
The medical community used to think that the primary concern was the larger plaques. They thought these posed a greater threat because of their size and that they were more likely to cause a complete blockage of the coronary arteries.
While it is true that the larger
plaques are more likely to cause angina, it is the smaller plaques that
are packed with cholesterol and covered by scars that are more
dangerous. They are considered unstable and prone to ruptures or
bursting releasing their load of cholesterol into the bloodstream. This
causes immediate clotting within the artery. If the blood clot blocks
the artery totally, it will stop the blood flow and a heart attack
occurs. The muscle on the farther side of the occurring clot fails to
get the oxygen it needs and begins to die. This kind of damage can be
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