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Over a hundred years ago, a scientist called Virchow, looking at cholesterol deposits in the arteries of heart attack patients for the first time, thought that they looked like porridge. He decided to call them atheroma which means ‘porridge’ in Greek. In more modern times, we know that the presence of atheroma in blood vessel walls is a dangerous sign that high levels of bad fats and cholesterol are circulating in the blood and action should be taken to lower them.
Imagine your house on the day that your favorite aunt comes to visit. Now, in your house, you have all your electronic junk and papers and clothes and music, but you want your aunt to come to a tidy house. So what do you do? You shove all the junk away in a corner and hide it behind the furniture so that when your aunt steps through the door, all she sees is a clean and tidy place.
For your body, your aunt is visiting every day. OK, that was a bad analogy, but in essence it is true. The more we force unwanted fats and nourishment into our blood stream, the more it struggles to cope. It takes the fats and stores them away in fat cells around the body because fat is a very valuable substance which will give us energy when we need it, and it is too good to waste. But cholesterol metabolism is linked to fat deposits, so it becomes altered and cholesterol is used in other ways. High blood pressure can cause damage to blood vessel walls.
But if we just keep on and on, eating the high fat meals, then eventually, the safety systems breakdown and we just cannot cope any more. These days, we are lucky enough to have the opportunity to eat, not only when we are hungry, but when we are being social, when we’re celebrating and even when we are stressed. We are surrounded by high calorie, high fat foodstuffs everywhere we turn, and inevitably, the bloodstream soon becomes full of unwanted molecules.
We Make Our Own Cholesterol
Most cells in the body can make cholesterol, but it is the liver which is the main source of cholesterol in the blood. Cholesterol has a wide range of important functions in the body:
- It is one of the molecules which are fixed in the cell membrane and help it to maintain its fluid nature. It can change shape if the membrane needs to be more solid or liquid.
- It is vital in making Vitamin D and steroid hormones and all the sex hormones, including testosterone and estrogen.
- It is used to insulate all the nerve cells like a rubber sleeve around copper wire, to make sure the nerve signal goes where it is supposed to go and nowhere else.