Since we talked about a type of diet last week, I thought it would be ideal to talk about another thing that is often brought up in regards to our diet: cholesterol. We hear about cholesterol, having high or low levels of it, and something about all of that being bad but what is cholesterol? Why do we even have it?
What is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a type of organic steroid that is mostly produced in the liver, but is also produced in all of your other cells. That’s right, you make cholesterol. So, it looks like diet is not the only contributor to cholesterol levels.
But why would our bodies produce cholesterol when it’s apparently so awful?
Cholesterol and our Body
Cholesterol is a very helpful molecule, even though it’s received some bad street cred for causing heart disease among other ailments. The membranes of our cells, which will be explored in more detail at some point, require a certain amount of fluidity in order to control what can enter our cells and what doesn’t. There are times, such as in high temperatures, when our cell membranes are too fluid. This will lead to our cells letting more molecules in than it should be, and can lead to our cells spilling its contents out since it’s lost its relatively stable membrane. Cholesterol helps to restrict the membrane’s fluidity by incorporating itself into the membrane. This allows the membrane to be stronger and prevent strange particles from entering our cells without the proper identification.
Cholesterol also acts as the precursor, or the beginning molecule, for the synthesis of other important molecules in our body. Some of these molecules include steroid hormones, like estrogen or mineralocorticoids (like aldosterone), as well as bile acids, which help to emulsify fats in the small intestine.
So that explains why we make cholesterol, and, so far, it seems wonderful! It’s involved in the production of some hormones, helps emulsify fats and prevents our cells from turning to jelly.
Why should we be wary of cholesterol though? What role does our diet play in this? We’ll explore all of this next week, so stay tuned!