What is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a sterol (a combination steroid and alcohol). Cholesterol is a lipid found in the cell membranes of all tissues, and it is transported in the blood plasma of all animals. Because cholesterol is synthesized by all eukaryotes, trace amounts of cholesterol are also found in membranes of plants and fungi. The name originates from the Greek chole- (bile) and stereos (solid), and the chemical suffix -ol for an alcohol, as researchers first identified cholesterol in solid form in gallstones by François Poulletier de la Salle in 1769. However, it is only in 1815 that chemist Eugène Chevreul named the compound “cholesterine”.Most of the cholesterol is synthesized by the body and some has dietary origin. Cholesterol is more abundant in tissues which either synthesize more or have more abundant densely-packed membranes, for example, the liver, spinal cord and brain. It plays a central role in many biochemical processes, such as the composition of cell membranes and the synthesis of steroid hormones.
Cholesterol is insoluble in blood, but is transported in the circulatory system bound to one of the varieties of lipoprotein, spherical particles which have an exterior composed mainly of water-soluble proteins. The main types, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) carry cholesterol from and to the liver.According to the lipid hypothesis, abnormally high cholesterol levels (hypercholesterolemia) and abnormal proportions of LDL and HDL are associated with cardiovascular disease by promoting atheroma development in arteries (atherosclerosis). This disease process leads to myocardial infarction (heart attack), stroke and peripheral vascular disease. As high LDL contributes to this process, it is termed “bad cholesterol”, while high levels of HDL (“good cholesterol”) offer a degree of protection. The balance can be redressed with exercise, a healthy diet, and sometimes medication.
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