What is cholesterol and how does arteriosclerosis develop?
Cholesterol is an essential raw material for our bodies. For example, cholesterol is needed to make certain hormones and it’s an important building block for cell walls. But too much cholesterol in the blood can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Cholesterol is needed by every cell in the human body. Your body produces most of what it needs in the liver. Only a small amount comes from our diet. The bloodstream transports cholesterol from the liver to the other organs and tissues in the body. Excess cholesterol is carried back to the liver in the blood.
Although cholesterol is often referred to as a “blood fat,” chemically speaking that is not quite correct. But, like fats, cholesterol does not dissolve in water (or blood), so our bodies need a special system to transport it. Cholesterol is packed into tiny parcels in the liver. The parcels are made up of cholesterol, proteins, fats (lipids) and other things in our blood. They can be transported through our bodies in the bloodstream. Because they are mainly made up of lipids and proteins, the parcels are called “lipoproteins.” There are two different groups of lipoproteins, which differ in how densely they are packed:
- LDL cholesterol: “LDL” stands for “low-density lipoprotein.” This type of parcel transports cholesterol from the liver to the rest of the body. High levels of LDL cholesterol are associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, which is why it’s sometimes referred to as “bad” cholesterol.
- HDL cholesterol: “HDL” stands for “high-density lipoprotein.” This type of parcel transports cholesterol back to the liver from the body’s organs and tissues. According to what doctors know now, high HDL cholesterol levels are probably associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. That is why HDL cholesterol is sometimes also called "good" cholesterol.