For the longest time I associated the word cholesterol with the word 'heart attack' so it surprised me to learn that it isn’t all bad - neither is it all good! - but it is necessary for the proper functioning of our bodies. Cholesterol is a waxy, fat like substance which is made in the body by the liver but is also found in some foods and here's why we need it.

  1. It makes up part of the structure in each and every one of our body cells, where it provides extra support for the cell membranes and acts as a protective barrier.

  2. It aides in the production of steroid hormones which control many vital functions in our bodies and without which we would have malfunctions with weight, sex, digestion, bone health...

  3. It is used to help the liver create bilewhich aides in digesting the food that we eat. Without the bile our bodies are unable to properly digest foods, especially fats. When fat goes undigested it can get into the bloodstream leading to blockages of the arteries which can cause heart attacks and heart disease.

  4. Cholesterol cannot dissolve in the blood so it needs 'carriers' to transport it throughout the body. These carriers are called lipoproteins (quick side note; they got their name because they’re made of fat (lipid) and proteins) and come in two basic forms,

    i)  LDL (low density lipoprotein) aka the ‘bad cholesterol’ because when in excess it contributes to plaque; a thick hard deposit that builds up in the walls of our arteries; causing arteries to become clogged, stiff and narrow. If this happens it causes decreased blood flow which can lead to a heart attack or stroke.

    ii) HDL (high density lipoprotein) aka the ‘good cholesterol’ because it scavenges the blood for 'bad cholesterol' and carries it back to the liver, where it is broken down and passed from the body. A healthy level of good cholesterol seems to guard against heart disease while low levels have been shown to increase the risk of heart disease.

Different factors affect our cholesterol levels but we have control over most of them like our diet, weight and physical activity. Making better food choices, managing our weight and regular exercise are all associated with lower ‘bad cholesterol' levels and lower risks of heart diseases.

Eat better. Live better.

Rachel Njeri