What (Too Much) Cholesterol Is Doing to Your Body

Cholesterol is a wax-like substance found in your cells and blood. Your liver creates most of the cholesterol in your body. As for the rest? It comes from the different foods you eat. Cholesterol travels in the blood bundled up in packets referred to as lipoproteins.

Cholesterol has two forms:

  • High-density lipoprotein (HDL) is the “good,” healthy cholesterol. HDL carries excessive amounts of cholesterol out of your arteries to your liver, which then removes it from your body.
  • Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is the “bad,” unhealthy cholesterol that your doctor warns you about. LDL can accumulate in your arteries and form fatty, wax-like deposits referred to as plaques.

Cholesterol Itself Isn’t Bad

Your body requires some cholesterol to produce vitamin D, digestive fluids, and hormones. Cholesterol also helps your organs function properly. However, having too much LDL cholesterol in your body can cause problems. Over time, it can harm your arteries, cause heart disease, and raise your chances of suffering a stroke.

How Cholesterol Affects Your Body: Cardiovascular and Circulatory Systems

As mentioned, when you have too much “bad” cholesterol in your body, it can collect in your arteries, which clogs them. The medical term for this life-threatening hardening of the arteries is atherosclerosis. Blood can’t flow as smoothly through hardened arteries, so your heart needs to work harder in order to push blood through them. As plaque continues to build in your arteries, you can develop heart disease over time.

Plaque buildup in your coronary arteries can impede the flow of oxygen-rich blood to your heart muscle. As a result, you can experience chest pain called angina. Angina is not the same as a heart attack as it is only a temporary disruption of blood flow. However, it is a warning sign from your body, saying you’re at risk for a heart attack.

If plaque buildup occurs in the arteries going to the brain, it can cause a stroke. Plaque can also disrupt the flow of blood to arteries responsible for supplying blood to your digestive tract, legs, and feet.

How Cholesterol Affects Your Endocrine System

Your hormone-producing glands make use of cholesterol to produce hormones such as cortisol, testosterone, and estrogen. Hormones can also affect your body’s cholesterol levels. For example, research suggests that as estrogen levels go up during a woman’s menstrual cycle, HDL cholesterol levels also rise, and LDL cholesterol levels decrease. This may be one of the reasons why women’s risk for cardiovascular disease is higher after menopause, when estrogen levels decline.

How Cholesterol Affects Your Nervous System

Did you know your brain contains approximately 25 percent of your body’s supply of cholesterol? This fat is fundamental to the development and protection of your nerve cells, which allow your brain to send signals and communicate with the rest of your body.

Even though your brain needs some cholesterol to function optimally, an excessive amount of it can be detrimental to your health. Excess cholesterol in your arteries can cause a stroke, leading to loss of movement, memory, speech, and other vital functions.

How Cholesterol Affects Your Digestive System

Cholesterol is important for bile production in your digestive system. Bile is a liquid substance that helps your intestines break down solid foods and absorb nutrients. If there’s too much cholesterol in your bile, the excess will form into stones in your gallbladder. Gallstones can be extremely painful.

A Word of Advice

Visit your doctor regularly to ensure your cholesterol levels are normal. Also, consider making lifestyle changes that can lower your risk of heart disease and other conditions, including eating a balanced diet, exercising, limiting alcohol consumption, and taking medication (if necessary) to stay healthy and improve your quality of life.