As mentioned above, cholesterol is a natural part of the human body.  Every animal, including humans, requires a certain amount of fat to exist.  Cholesterol only becomes a problem when there is an imbalance like everything in nature.
Fat processing begins when it is absorbed in the intestines.  It is transported through the bloodstream to the liver.  Fat needs a delivery system to the rest of the body for immediate use and to be stored in fat cells for future use. In the liver, fat is altered into two different types. This enables the rapid delivery of fats to the appropriate parts of the body that need them.  One type is cholesterol. The other type is triglycerides.
Cholesterol and triglycerides are packaged in forms to carry the fat to fat cells throughout the body. The transport vehicles are called lipoproteins.  The transportation system is the bloodstream. There are three types of lipoproteins:

  • Very Low Density Lipoproteins (VLDL)
  • Low Density Lipoproteins (LDL)
  • High Density Lipoproteins (HDL)

Cholesterol is a waxy substance that occurs naturally in cell walls and membranes everywhere in your body.  Your body uses cholesterol to produce many hormones.  It also uses cholesterol to produce vitamin D and bile acids to digest fat.

Normally the bloodstream does an efficient job of transporting LDL and HDL Lipoproteins throughout the body. Problems arise is when there is an excess of cholesterol in your bloodstream. Cholesterol deposited by the LDL begins to collect in the blood vessels and starts the clogging process. 
When this occurs the excess can be deposited in the arteries of the heart. That can result in stroke or heart disease. This is called atherosclerosis.  That is why LDL is known as the “bad cholesterol.”

It is the work of the High Density Lipoproteins (HDL) to collect the bad cholesterol and return it to the liver.  That is why HDL is known as the “good cholesterol.”

Cholesterol is a contributing factor to heart disease, not the only cause. This is what happens. Cholesterol attaches to the inner lining of the artery but only if it has been damaged.  When the lining of the artery is damaged white blood cells gather at the site.  They are followed by cholesterol, calcium and cellular debris.  Muscle cells around the artery are also changed and begin to accumulate cholesterol.

Fatty streaks in the arteries continue to develop and begin to bulge into arteries. The cholesterol “bulge” is then covered by a scar with a hard coat or shell over the mixture of cholesterol and cell debris.  This collection of cholesterol covered by a scar is called “plaque.” 

As plaque builds up on the artery walls it reduces the size of the space that the blood flows through. This reduces the supply of nutrients and oxygen for the tissues fed by that blood vessel.

This plaque buildup also reduces the elasticity of the blood vessel.  The ability of the artery to control blood pressure is compromised. When there is insufficient oxygen being carried through the now narrow arteries, the heart may give you a pain that is called angina. Angina pain usually happens during exercise because that is when your heart needs more oxygen.  It is most often felt in the chest or left arm or shoulder. However, it can happen without showing any symptoms at all.

Plaque varies in size as well as shape.  Throughout the coronary arteries you can find many small plaques covering less than half of an artery opening. Some are so small they are completely invisible in tests used by physicians to identify heart disease.  

For a long time, healthcare professionals believed the primary concern was the larger plaques.  Physicians thought the larger plaques were a bigger threat because their size threatened a complete blockage of the coronary arteries. The larger plaques are more likely to cause angina. 

However, the smaller plaques are loaded with cholesterol and covered by scars and are more dangerous.  They are more unstable and likely to rupture or burst open and release their cholesterol content into the bloodstream.  The result is immediate clotting in that artery.  If the blood clot results in a complete blockage of the artery it may stop the flow of blood and cause a heart attack.   

If the muscle cells beyond the clot do not get the oxygen they need, they begin to die. This type of cellular damage can be permanent.

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