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Functions and risks of cholesterol: what values ​​are dangerous?

Updated August 16, 2019, 3:11 pm

Cholesterol is considered a concern when it comes to the risk of heart attack and vascular disease. At the same time, it also performs vital functions in the body. But what exactly is cholesterol? And: is it good or bad for your health?

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You don't see it, you don't feel it – and suddenly the surprising diagnosis comes from the doctor: Cholesterol levels are too high. This means that blood lipid levels are not correct. This finding should not be ignored: if cholesterol levels rise permanently, arteriosclerosis threatens a heart attack or stroke in the worst case. On the other hand: basically the fat-like substance in the blood doesn't have to be bad.

Professor of Cardiology at Leipzig University Hospital, Professor Ulrich Laufs, explains what cholesterol is all about: "Cholesterol is found in all mammals and is necessary to build the cell wall and source material for the production of hormones, vitamin D or bile needed for fat digestion. . "

When is cholesterol dangerous?

In itself, cholesterol is neither good nor bad, according to the expert. Every cell in the body can produce the substance if needed. It only becomes dangerous if there is too much cholesterol in the blood over a long period of time and it settles into the vessel walls.

The guys lose elasticity. At the same time, there is a narrowing of the vessels and thus a reduced blood flow through the affected vessels and circulatory disorders.

This process is called arteriosclerosis. This increases the risk of vascular disease, which can lead to stroke or heart attack, among other things.

"Since cholesterol is not water-soluble, it is transported in the blood in combination with proteins," Laufs explains. Only then can the substance reach the necessary places in the body. "The result is the so-called lipoproteins, which distinguish among other things low-density lipoproteins, LDL cholesterol and high-density lipoproteins, HDL cholesterol," the expert said.

Low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol is responsible for the transport of cholesterol from the liver to various tissues. High levels of LDL mean that a lot of cholesterol circulates in the body and can accumulate on the walls of the tub – especially if they are already damaged, for example due to hypertension or smoking.

In contrast, high density lipoprotein HDL cholesterol ideally provides excess cholesterol to be transported from the arterial walls back to the liver and then excreted via the bile. Therefore, HDL is often referred to as "good cholesterol". Low HDL cholesterol can therefore increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Several factors can affect cholesterol

According to Professor Dr. Laufs should be high in LDL cholesterol in healthy subjects at a maximum of 130 mg / dl (2.6 mmol / l). For people with other risk factors or biased patients, the recommended values ​​are lower.

"But deviating from the recommended limits, one not only considers cholesterol in isolation, but always the patient's overall picture," Laufs explains. This would make it easier to identify other potential risk factors. These include in particular smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes, physical inactivity and obesity.

In addition, a genetic fat metabolism disorder may be present. In people with genetically-induced elevated cholesterol levels, in most cases, there are not enough receptors in the liver that LDL cholesterol must approach to be removed from the blood. As a result, it accumulates in the blood over time, causing cholesterol levels to rise.

What to do with elevated cholesterol levels?

To counteract high cholesterol levels, a holistic lifestyle change is necessary. The German Heart Foundation recommends stopping smoking, eating healthier, losing weight and above all integrating more exercise into everyday life.

Endurance sports such as jogging, biking, hiking or hiking have a particularly positive effect – best for at least 30 minutes a day.

According to the German Association for Nutrition e.V. Instead of high-fat foods with a high content of monounsaturated fatty acids, you should eat better plant-based foods with a high content of polyunsaturated fatty acids.

Expensive foods with high fat content, finished products, fried and sweet pastries should be avoided. It is ideal to include more vegetables, fruits and whole grains in the diet instead.

Regular check with the doctor is recommended

"If these changes don't reduce cholesterol enough, prescription drugs, in this case statins, may be needed," Laufs says. They reduce the body's production of cholesterol.

Basically, check your cholesterol levels once a year at check-ups. If they are elevated and a lifestyle change or even medication is required, Laufs recommends that values ​​be checked twice a year.

The information in this article does not replace the personal advice and treatment of a physician.

Sources used:

  • German Society for the Control of Dyslipidemia and its Effects DGFF (Lipid-League) e.V .: Cholesterol Advisor
  • German Heart Foundation: Cholesterol is located
  • Bornheim Clinic for Diagnostics and Preventative Medicine: Cholesterol – What Is It?
  • German Nutrition Society e .: Cholesterol in the Blood – Low LDL and High HDL Cholesterol Reduce the Risk of Cardiovascular Events
  • Federal Center for Nutrition: Cholesterol: Myth Breakfast Eggs

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