What is Cholesterol

1 December 2015 by Ilse Barnardt

What is Cholesterol

Cholesterol is critical for good health.

Cholesterol is a white waxy substance found in our bloodstream and cells and is essential to so many bodily functions. To name a few, it helps form cell membranes, vitamin D, bile acids (assists the body in digesting fats), and is important for hormones, memory and neurological function

About three quarters of our cholesterol is made in the liver and the rest we get from the diet.

There are two different types of cholesterol:

  • High density lipoprotein HDL (understood to be the good cholesterol):
    This type helps keep cholesterol away from arteries and may help
    to prevent heart disease.
  • Low-density lipoprotein LDL (understood to be the bad cholesterol):
    This transports cholesterol in the bloodstream and delivers it to cells throughout the body for use in repair of cell membranes and synthesis of steroid hormones and bile salts. There is a chance that LDL may cause a build-up of plaque in the arteries and causes them to become narrow and less flexible (known as atherosclerosis). This can increase the risk of a blood clot forming in the brain or heart, which can then lead to a heart attack or stroke.

Also making up your cholesterol are triglycerides and lipoproteins. Triglyceride levels can rise from an intake of too many grains and sugar, excessive drinking, smoking, limited exercise, and being overweight. High levels of this fat can lead to heart disease and diabetes. Lipoprotein is made up of LDL and a protein (apoprotein a). Again, high levels of this fat increases your chance of developing heart disease.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) says that total blood cholesterol levels above 5.5mmol/L greatly increases your risk of developing coronary heart disease. However, the total blood cholesterol level doesn't give you an accurate idea of your risk for heart disease. More accurate measures can be used by having your HDL level measured against your cholesterol reading. Also have your triglyceride level measured against your HDL level. These measures are a more accurate way to find out your risks of developing heart disease. Ask your doctor to run these tests for you.


Generally only your total blood cholesterol levels are measured, and this is used as an indication of how much risk you have to develop heart disease. If these levels are higher than what the AIHW has set, further steps will need to be taken to lower it..

The only way to get to these low levels is to take cholesterol-lowering drugs. These drugs work by inhibiting an enzyme in your liver that is needed to make cholesterol. They deplete the body of the vital nutrient Coenzyme Q10 (essential for the heart and muscle function), which can lead to symptoms of fatigue, muscle weakness, soreness and heart failure.

The risk really starts when your cholesterol becomes too low. As said before, every single cell in our body, including brain cells, need cholesterol to be able to function properly.

Some of the side effects and symptoms caused by cholesterol lowering drugs include:

  • Muscle pain and weakness
  • An increase in the risk of developing nerve damage, which may cause pain in hands and feet
  • Depression
  • Violent and aggressive behaviour. Studies have shown that these changes in mood and behaviour can occur in people with lowered cholesterol. It is known that low cholesterol may lead to lowered serotonin levels in the brain which in turn can cause these mood changes.
  • Liver problems
  • Increase in the risk of cancer
  • Decreased immune function
  • Dizziness
  • Memory loss

Yes, these drugs are effective at lowering your cholesterol, although at the same time they are potentially putting you at risk for other side effects like joint pain, decreased immune system, depression, memory loss etc.; which can result in the need for other drugs to treat these symptoms.


Inflammation is the body's immune response to invaders. In this process your blood vessels constrict to lessen blood loss, the blood becomes thicker to clot, cells and chemicals from the immune system fight viruses and the multiplying of cells helps to repair damage. Thereafter a scar is formed to protect the wound, when this process happens in an artery the scar is seen as plaque and can cause high blood pressure as it narrows the artery. This is where cholesterol comes in; it repairs these damaged cells and helps to reduce healing time. Therefore cholesterol is not the underlying cause of the high blood pressure (increasing your risk of a heart attack). When inflammation occurs on a regular basis it is called chronic inflammation and this is what really puts you at risk.

Chronic inflammation is caused by consuming too much sugar and grains, cooking your food at high temperatures for too long (removing important nutrients and minerals), eating trans fats, smoking and stress.

Many of us are told that our "high cholesterol level" caused by foods that contain cholesterol such as eggs, butter, red meat and dairy. However, as you can see, cholesterol is essential to the body to repair cells, and therefore essentially so too are these foods.

• Note: Studies have shown that these foods have no effect on blood cholesterol levels.

Inflammation and cholesterol can be effectively managed through nutritional therapy. By making a few lifestyle adjustments and following a wholesome properly prepared nutrient dense diet, you are on your way to a healthier, better life without taking potential harmful drugs.

Dr. Mercola, 2014, What is cholesterol and why do you need It?, viewed 12 November 2015,

Dr. Mercola, 2010, The cholesterol myth that is harming your health, viewed 12 November 2015,

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2015, High blood cholesterol, viewed 17 November 2015,

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Ilse Barnardt

Ilse is a graduate FNTP of NTA Australia's Class of 2015. She lives in Emerald and is passionate about health and nutrition. Find her at