Cholesterol: An Essential Molecule in Life

The following course and lessons are to teach you about the regulation of and the role of cholesterol, triglycerides and lipoprotein particles in the body. The body has many self-regulatory systems. These molecules and particles have just such a self-regulatory system in place. The body makes these molecules and recycles all for use in other processes and in doing so, when healthy, controls their levels.

Learning Objectives:

  • Cholesterol is a molecule that is essential to life. All cells need cholesterol to survive and almost all of our cells are capable of making cholesterol.
  • The body makes over 80% of its own cholesterol. The remainder comes from our diet.
  • If we increase dietary cholesterol, the body (mostly the liver and some in the intestines) will make less, if we decrease dietary cholesterol, the body will make more. The liver, which creates most of our cholesterol, will self-regulate blood cholesterol levels in healthy individuals.
  • Lipoproteins are particles that are made in the liver from protein and phospholipids which are wrapped around cholesterol and triglyceride molecules.
  • Lipoproteins come in different sizes or densities. Each of these have different functions.
  • Lipoproteins are used to transport cholesterol and triglycerides (fat-based molecules) through our water-based blood.
  • Cholesterol does not cause the damage to our arteries. Cholesterol is involved in the process of atherogenesis (creation of plaque in arteries).
  • Cholesterol deposits in arteries are used to repair damage being caused by something else.
  • Triglycerides are fatty acids, primarily being delivered to muscles for use as fuel. Triglycerides are also delivered to fat cells for storage.
  • Some triglycerides can also be found floating in our blood. High serum triglycerides levels can increase risk of cardiovascular disease.
  • While Low Density Lipoproteins (LDL) have been labeled “bad” it is actually the damaged or oxidized LDL that are commonly involved in the disease process.
  • High Density Lipoproteins (HDL) have been labeled “good” due to their involvement in clearing out cholesterol particles from arteries and delivering them back to the liver for processing.
  • HDL will also deliver cholesterol to the few cells in our body that do not make cholesterol.
  • Blood lipoprotein particle levels, by themselves, are weak predictors of risk.
  • Ratios of blood lipoprotein particle levels, such as LDL to HDL ratio, Total Cholesterol to HDL ratio and Triglycerides to HDL ratio are all much stronger predictors of risk.
  • Lipoprotein particles, cholesterol and triglycerides are all highly affected by diet and lifestyle (exercise, sleep, smoking, alcohol, stress and others).
  • Lifestyle therapy including diet should be the first line of defense when addressing lipoprotein particles, cholesterol and triglycerides as these interventions are, by far, the safest and most effective treatments to improve these biomarkers and restore proper function.

When blood levels of any of these substances are not within normal ranges nutritional and lifestyle modification should be used as it is the safest, most effective treatment available. For those with familial hyperlipidemia pharmacology has been shown to be marginally effective at controlling risk.

Upon completing the courses be sure to complete the Quiz to test what you have learned.