What is the function of cholesterol in the body?

While much of the discussion around cholesterol focuses on its negative effects and association with heart disease, it still serves several important purposes in the body.

There are two types of cholesterol: low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol.

LDL cholesterol is what many people think of and call it “bad” cholesterol. HDL is the kind that people consider “good” cholesterol.

Too much LDL cholesterol in the blood can lead to plaque buildup in the arteries. When this happens, it can lead to cardiovascular disease, including heart attack and stroke.

Cholesterol plays an important role in several bodily functions, which means that a person needs some cholesterol in their system to function properly. This article discusses the functions in which cholesterol helps, as well as the different types of cholesterol, the screening process, and normal levels.

Cholesterol helps with various functions in the body. It circulates throughout the body in the blood and is found in every cell.

The body applications cholesterol to:

  • help build new tissue and repair damage to existing tissue
  • produce steroid hormones, including estrogen
  • help make bile in the liver
  • helps in the production of vitamin D

However, too much cholesterol can lead to potentially fatal conditions, such as cardiovascular disease and kidney problems.

Cholesterol is a type of lipid or fat produced by the liver. Cholesterol circulates throughout the body and goes where the body needs it.

There are two types of cholesterol, including:

  • Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL) Cholesterol: Doctors often refer to this as “bad” cholesterol. It can cause a buildup of plaque in the arteries, which can cause them to stiffen and become clogged.
  • High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol: Doctors often refer to HDL as “good” cholesterol. It can help lower the level of bad cholesterol in the body. It does this by transporting LDL cholesterol back to the liver, where the body breaks it down and releases it. However, HDL only eliminates approx 1/4 to 1/3 of the LDL cholesterol.

Triglycerides also play an important role in understanding the possible negative effects of LDL cholesterol on the body. Triglycerides are the most abundant form of fat in the body. They come from stored energy from the food a person consumes.

High triglyceride and LDL cholesterol levels, combined with low levels of HDL cholesterol, are associated with plaque buildup in the arteries and a higher risk of stroke and heart attack.

To check cholesterol levels, a doctor orders a blood test known as the lipid profile or lipid panel. The panel can help determine one’s 10 year risk for a heart attack or stroke.

The test checks a person’s levels of:

  • LDL cholesterol
  • HDL cholesterol
  • triglycerides
  • total cholesterol level

Higher LDL cholesterol, triglyceride, or overall cholesterol levels may indicate that a person has an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease, such as heart attack and stroke.

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that a person get a cholesterol level screening once every 4 to 6 years for those over age 20 with no risk factors. People with higher risk factors for developing cardiovascular disease may need more frequent screening.

The test is a non-invasive blood draw that a doctor can perform in a lab, hospital, or office. It requires a person to fast for 9–12 hours before the test, so people often do them in the morning before they’ve had food.

A technician takes a blood sample and sends it to the lab for analysis. The lab will then send the lipid profile back to the person’s doctor, who will discuss the results with them over the phone or at a follow-up appointment.

In some cases, a person may be able to access their lipid profile through an online chart. They should ask their healthcare provider if they have a system they can log into to see their results.

After analysis, a lab sends a person’s doctor a report detailing their cholesterol levels. According to the Adult Treatment Panel IIIinclude the standard levels listed in a lipid profile:

LDL cholesterol level

  • optimal: less than 100 mg/dL
  • near optimal/above optimal: 100 to 129 mg/dL
  • limit high: 130 to 159 mg/dL
  • high: 160 to 189 mg/dL
  • very high: greater than 190 mg/dL

HDL cholesterol level

  • low: less than 40
  • high: greater than or equal to 60

Fasting triglyceride level

  • normal: less than 150 milligrams(m)/deciliter (dL)
  • mild high hypertriglyceridemia (elevated fat levels): 150 to 499 mg/dL
  • moderate hypertriglyceridemia: 500 to 886 mg/dl
  • very high or severe hypertriglyceridemia: greater than 886 mg/dL

In addition to the lipid profile, a doctor will use other factors to assess a person’s 10-year risk of cardiovascular disease. They contain:

Cholesterol aids in several bodily functions, including cell building and repair, bile production, and hormone production.

When kept at a normal level, a person has one less risk factor for developing cardiovascular disease.

If the cholesterol level is high, the person has an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

A person should have their doctor test their cholesterol levels every few years to determine if they are within the normal healthy range.

What is the function of cholesterol in the body?

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