Is it really impossible to live without cholesterol?


Medically Reviewed by,
July 16, 2021

Life without Cholesterol

Why Is Cholesterol Essential to Life?

Though cholesterol is essential to life, why it is considered as ‘bad’? Let us know the facts

We often read, discuss, and give advice to others that cholesterol is really bad for our body, especially for our heart’s health, but on the contrary cholesterol is not that bad, but it is very essential for the normal functioning of the body. In other words, it will be extremely difficult for us to live without cholesterol.

How cholesterol is good for our body?

Functions of cholesterol in the body: Cholesterol is present in cell walls, cell membranes, muscle cells, skin cells, liver, intestines, and almost every cell of our body.  It forms an integral part of the outer membrane that surrounds every cell of our body. Thus, it is naturally present in every body cell, cell wall, membranes and tissues, and it is an essential fat that helps body to function properly. Moreover, it offers stability and shape to every cell of our body.

Why Is Cholesterol Essential to Life?

Cholesterol helps in the formation of brain cells, nerve cells and muscle cells. In other words, it helps in the formation of body cells and cell wall of all body cells. Cholesterol is essential for hormone production and protein synthesis. It is in fact the building block for hormone production in the body.

Cholesterol is needed for the production of important hormones like prostaglandins, testosterone, estrogen and follicle stimulating hormone (sex hormones). Cholesterol is also needed for the production of adrenal hormones such as cortisol, cortisone and aldosterone. In fact, vitamin D the vital nutrient for many metabolic activities in the body is produced with the help of cholesterol. Vitamin A, D, E and K need cholesterol for their production. Liver converts cholesterol into bile and stores it in the gallbladder. Liver releases cholesterol in the small intestine for digestion of fats. Cholesterol enhances the metabolic efficiency of cells by providing energy for cell metabolism.

In other words, without cholesterol our body would not be able to work properly – sustainability, stability and life itself will be at greater risk.

Why Cholesterol is considered as bad?

After reading the above paragraphs, we have come to a conclusion that cholesterol is not that bad, but it is very essential for our body. Then, why it is considered as bad. To understand this better, we should first understand that when it is in excess what it does.

About 80% of the cholesterol present in the body comes from the liver and the remaining 20% comes from the food. In addition to producing cholesterol, liver also control its production by storing excess cholesterol and producing it according to the requirement of the body. Liver possesses specific receptors by which it captures excess cholesterol in the circulation and controls its production and secretion. As long as the liver cholesterol and food cholesterol are normal, there is no risk and the equilibrium is maintained and the control mechanism is intact. However, when this control mechanism alters due to excess dietary intake or any liver or genetic disorder, excess cholesterol circulates in the blood. This is how; excess cholesterol starts its devastating effects in the body. The result is heart disease and brain strokes. We will understand the devastating effects of excess cholesterol and how it is responsible for heart and brain strokes in detail in our next article.

How cholesterol is responsible for heart attacks and brain strokes? What causes excess cholesterol and which cholesterol is good for health? How to maintain cholesterol levels under check?

Excess cholesterol forms plaques

Excess cholesterol instead of giving beneficial support, damages vital organs – the prominent among them is heart and brain. It forms plaques and damages arteries and causes heart attacks and brain strokes.

Excess cholesterol in combination with fat and calcium forms plaque on the walls of arteries and block the blood flow [coronary artery disease (CAD)]. This usually happens in coronary arteries, the one which supplies blood to the heart. When blood supply to the heart stops, the muscles of that region die immediately and we get heart attack and if this happens to brain, we get brain stroke. The muscles of heart and the cells of brain are very active as they need, oxygen, vital nutrients and energy throughout the life of the body. Heart muscles continuously contracts and expands to supply blood to different body parts, for this reason they need continuous supply of nutrients and most importantly oxygen to get energy for this vital function. 

Excess Cholesterol Levels

Does Total Cholesterol levels Itself are enough to Evaluate the Risk of Heart Disease or Stroke?

Total Cholesterol = LDL (Low-density lipoprotein) +HDL (High-density lipoprotein) +IDL (Intermediate Density Lipoprotein) +VLDL (Very-low-density lipoprotein).

Total cholesterol levels can be just as misleading as the Total LDL levels. Let us understand how?

For instance, some people have higher levels of HDL (greater than 60) and normal LDL levels. However, their total cholesterol levels are elevated due to higher levels of HDL.

Some people may have higher levels of LDL (may be around 130, 150 or 160, but lower levels of HDL 35 or 40). However, their total cholesterol levels are normal – under 200. But with regard to LDL levels, the risk of cardiovascular disease still exists in them.

The story doesn’t end here as some people with normal cholesterol levels may still have heart attacks.

What causes excess cholesterol in the body?

Animal based food products like meat, poultry, liver, dairy products are rich in cholesterol, whereas plant-based products come with very less or negligible amounts of cholesterol. The other factors like genetic diseases of the liver also increase cholesterol levels.

How much cholesterol is good for your health?

Human body contains two types of cholesterol: Good cholesterol and bad cholesterol. Good cholesterol should be more and bad cholesterol must be less. But, due to bad eating habits our fat intake and cholesterol increases that in turn increases the bad cholesterol and eventually our good cholesterol decreases. Good cholesterol is carried by high density lipoproteins (HDL), whereas bad cholesterol is carried by low density lipoproteins (LDL). Both these proteins, along with the cholesterol present in our body are produced by liver through various metabolic reactions. Once this natural equilibrium and balance alters, the bad cholesterol accumulates on the walls of arteries and causes blockage in the arteries and the blood flow stops results in heart attack and brain strokes.

Controlling Bad Cholesterol

Now, the question is can we control bad cholesterol with some lifestyle and dietary alterations? The answer is yes, of course, but we should follow some strict habits and dietary routine as mentioned below:

Limit the intake of high fatty food like cheese, butter, coconut oil, fat rich meat, egg yolk, coconut butter, fortified meat products.

Avoid fast foods, fried foods, preserved foods, grilled and roasted meats and meat products.

Avoid palm oil and any other oil, which is in solid state at room temperature.

Improve the consumption of polyunsaturated fatty acid rich oil like olive oil, safflower oil, peanut oil, soy oil. These oils contain essential polyunsaturated fatty acids like omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids. These fatties are essential for various bodily functions, especially for the proper functioning of brain and nerve cells. Omega-3 fatty acids break the plaque inside the arteries and releases cholesterol in the blood, which then get out of the body.

What More Can You Do?

Incorporate omega-3 fatty acids rich food in your diet, like peanut oil, flaxseed oil, olive oil, sesame oil, and fish. Poultry and milk products also contain omeg3-fatty acids, but sea products are the richest sources of omeg-3 fatty acids, and therefore they are the heart friendly products.

Perform regular exercise, drink more water, use staircase more often instead of lift. Include vegetables and fruits in your diet.

Eat fiber rich diet like nuts, grains, cereals whole wheat, whole rice and all different types of fruits and vegetables.

Consume fewer carbohydrates like sugar rich products, cola drinks and other saccharine rich beverages, cakes, pastries and burgers and other fatty bakery products.

Eat raw or cooked fenugreek seeds and leaves. It has amazing health benefits.

Avoid stress and follow your doctor’s advice.

Include all essential dark-colored fruits and vegetables in your diet.


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