What is Cholesterol?


Most of us are aware that high cholesterol has become one of the common metabolic syndromes which contributes to health risks such as heart attack and stroke. As we age, cholesterol levels might increase with the triggers from environmental factors such as food, stress, and a sedentary lifestyle. A routine blood test and adjustment of lifestyle help to reverse the illness. Unfortunately most of the time it is not been taken seriously because high cholesterol does not manifest symptoms. 

What is Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a soft fatty substance mainly produced in the liver and also found in animal-derived food. Not all types of cholesterol are bad for your health. Cholesterol in the blood is carried by a protein transporter called a lipoprotein. High-density lipoprotein (HDL) is known as “good” cholesterol which supports heart health while Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is known as “bad” cholesterol which deteriorates our health.  

Functions of cholesterol and side effects of high LDL cholesterol.

Cholesterol assists in the production of vital substances such as hormones, bile acids, and vitamin D in our body. It is also a building block for human tissues which helps to maintain the integrity and fluidity of the cell membranes. Hence, it is important for the body to produce cholesterol for optimum cell functioning. The problem starts when over-production of cholesterol or overconsumption of fatty food leads to high LDL cholesterol in the blood.

Excess LDL cholesterol joins with fats and other materials to build up in the inner wall of blood vessels creating plaque. The plaque causes narrowing of the blood vessel and blocks blood from flowing normally. The risk of heart attack and stroke occurs when the plagues break loose and block the flow of blood and oxygen to the heart and brain tissues respectively. To avoid such incidents to happen, it is recommended to keep the LDL and HDL cholesterol levels in the normal range. Unlike LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol promotes cardiovascular health by removing the “bad” cholesterol from the blood vessel and eliminate it through the liver.

Possible triggers and prevention of Hypercholesterolemia.

1) Genetics

High cholesterol can be inherited but it depends on the lifestyle which makes it to be treatable.

2) Diet

A poor diet with a high intake of processed food, fast food, fried food, and an excessive amount of animal products may increase the cholesterol level.

Food high in cholesterol includes internal organs, egg yolk, fish roe, squid, and cuttlefish.  Limit intake of dairy products, meat, and poultry as it is a moderately high cholesterol food. Choose food with less or no cholesterol such as vegetables, fruits, beans, and fish. Consume food high in healthy fats such as olives, avocado, salmon, tuna, chia seed, flaxseed, nuts, and sacha inchi oil to increase good cholesterol HDL.

Watch out of the food labels with “cholesterol-free” because most of the time this processed food may not contain cholesterol but rich in Trans fat and saturated fat which may trigger the liver to produce cholesterol in the body. Check on the nutritional labelling and ingredient list for a better understanding of the fat intake. 

3) Lack of exercise

Inactiveness causes an increase in LDL cholesterol therefore recommended to do 30 minutes of cardio exercises 5 days a week. Active lifestyle promotes the production of HDL cholesterol. Being overweight or obese also impacts your cholesterol levels.

4) Smoking and alcohol drinking

Cigarette smoking and alcohol contribute to inflammation and triggers cholesterol deposits in the blood vessels. Smoking also reduces the “good” cholesterol HDL in the blood and on the other hand, drinking alcohol may increase triglyceride production. Therefore quit smoking and limit alcohol intake may help to reverse and prevent hypercholesterolemia.

5) Stress and sleep

High-stress level spikes the cortisol hormone production which eventually causes the body to demand to make more cholesterol. Hence, relieve stress through activities such as exercise, meditation and also catch up with your sleep. Sleeping early and a minimum of 7 hours of sleep may stimulate the body’s healing and recovery process.

In conclusion, high cholesterol condition matters and it is a reversible condition with a healthy lifestyle practice. Therefore when it comes to cholesterol, follow 3C key points which are CHECK, CHANGE, and CONTROL.

By Nutritionist

Anna Hoo Clinic



Zampelas.A* and Magriplis.E. New Insights into Cholesterol Functions: A Friend or an Enemy? Nutrients. 2019 Jul; 11(7): 1645.

American Heart Association. 2020. Understanding & Managing Cholesterol. https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/cholesterol/hdl-good-ldl-bad-cholesterol-and-triglycerides