What Is the Function of Cholesterol in the Body?

Cholesterol is publicized as an antonym to health. However, it is a necessary nutrient for body function. Much of the needed cholesterol is obtained through foods such as meat and dairy, but it can also be made by the liver. Most people think cholesterol is a fat, but rather, it is a high molecular weight sterol. If cholesterol is so vital, what exactly is the function of cholesterol in the body?

Functions of Cholesterol in the Body

1.   Producing Hormones

Cholesterol is essential for the body’s creation of steroid hormones. The steroid hormones most people are familiar with are sex hormones, such as testosterone, estrogen and progesterone. These hormones are needed for reproductive functioning and development of sex characteristics such as facial hair. Other types of steroid hormones related with cholesterol include cortisol and aldosterone. Cortisol is needed for blood sugar maintenance and infection prevention while aldosterone plays a part in water retention.

2.   Creating Vitamin D

Vitamin D is important because it helps the body’s nervous system function properly. Vitamin D is also critical in other aspects, such as blood sugar regulation, mineral absorption, proper immune response, metabolism and reproduction. Humans can get vitamin D from multiple sources, including foods that are high in cholesterol, such as eggs and fish oil. Cholesterol also helps the body produce vitamin D from sunlight.

3.   Aiding Digestion

One function of cholesterol in the body is better digestion. Without cholesterol, the body could not digest fat. When a person consumes food that contains fat, the gallbladder releases bile which breaks down large chunks of fat into much smaller particles that can be effectively digested by the body. Additionally, bile is needed for the body to properly absorb vitamins D, A, E and K. These vitamins are fat-soluble, so it makes sense that bile is required for proper use of vitamins.

4.   Boosting the Immune System

Not having enough cholesterol in the diet can adversely affect the immune system. Those who don’t have enough cholesterol in the blood often suffer from more frequent and long-lasting infections. Even “bad” cholesterol, also known as LDL (low density lipoprotein) is needed by the body because it attaches itself to bacterial toxins and neutralizes them.

5.   Enhancing Cell Structure

Since human cell membranes are made with cholesterol, it’s no surprise that cholesterol is needed for cell maintenance and creation. Specifically, cholesterol allows the cell membrane to stay flexible and allow lipids to pass through. Without cholesterol, cell walls are not properly shaped, which can cause problems with the body’s overall metabolism. Cholesterol also assists the transportation and communication between cells.

6.   Improving Brain Function

The function of cholesterol in the body can be seen from the fact that brain contains about 25% of the entire body’s cholesterol volume. Without cholesterol, the neurons in the brain don’t work well because the synapses aren’t properly formed. This can cause erratic behavior and make it harder to think or learn. Research has indicated that not having enough cholesterol in the body may be linked to an increased chance of Alzheimer’s disease as well as violent behavior.

Cholesterol Level Charts

Cholesterol levels are mainly expressed in the four aspects.

Total Cholesterol: Total cholesterol is a value that represents all the cholesterol in the entire body. Having cholesterol that is too high can increase the risk of stroke and heart attack.

Cholesterol Level

Category

Greater than 240 mg/dL

High

Between 200 and 239 mg/dL

Elevated

Less than 200 mg/dL

Healthy

HDL Cholesterol: HDL stands for high density lipoprotein and is the “good” cholesterol. It reduces the buildup of plaque in arteries.

HDL Level

Category

Greater than 60 mg/dL

Helping prevent heart disease

Between 40 and 59 mg/dL

Good, but could be higher

Less than 40 mg/dL

Higher risk for heart disease

LDL Cholesterol: LDL stands for low density lipoprotein and is often referred to as “bad” cholesterol. LDL is bad because it has higher amounts of fat, which can clog up arteries with the buildup of plaque.

Cholesterol Level

Category

Greater than 190 mg/dL

Very high

Between 160 and 189 mg/dL

Elevated

Between 130 and 159 mg/dL

Borderline

Between 100 and 129 mg/dL

Close to desired level

Less than 100 mg/dL

Desired

Triglycerides: Along with LDL, having too many triglycerides in the body can lead to plaque buildup in the arteries and increase the risk of stroke or heart disease.

Trigylceride Level

Category

Greater than 500 mg/dL

Extremely high

Between 200 and 499 mg/dL

Very high

Between 150 and 199 mg/dL

High

Less than 150 mg/dL

Normal

Despite the function of cholesterol in the body, having too much of it can cause many health problems such as heart disease. Therefore, anyone over the age of 20 is advised to have cholesterol level checked every few years. Cholesterol levels can be measured by taking a lipoprotein panel which examines chemicals in the blood that carry cholesterol.

 
 
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