Cholesterol occurs naturally in our bodies, it is found in most tissues and helps us to function healthily. Certain factors can cause cholesterol levels to spiral out of control, leading to potential heart disease, angina, stroke or heart attack. It is the substance that is referred to as “bad” cholesterol that causes these health concerns. It’s medical name is low-density lipoprotein or LDL. It is commonly referred to as LDL cholesterol.
So what exactly is LDL cholesterol?
Cholesterol isn’t soluble in blood, but it occurs naturally in every cell in our body. It needs to travel through our bloodstream. It does this by attaching itself to special transporters called lipoproteins. They are made up of lipids (or fats) and proteins, hence the name. Cholesterol is taken to and from the cells in our body by two different types of lipoprotein. Low-density lipoprotein (or LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL).
Cholesterol is a fatty wax-like substance. If there is an excess of LDL cholesterol it can build up in the body, sticking to the sides of arteries and building up in a sort of plaque. As the arteries thin and lose their flexibility, a condition called atherosclerosis develops. Once the arteries have narrowed this can cause conditions such as angina (severe chest pain caused by restricted blood flow to the heart). If a narrow artery becomes completely blocked (through a blood clot or further build up of plaque) then the blood flow to an organ may cease completely, which can cause a stroke or heart attack.
You can read more about LDL cholesterol, its causes, how it is measured and how to reduce it here.