Is There Such Thing as Good and Bad Cholesterol?
The topic of cholesterol is a highly controversial one. While cholesterol is essential in order for the human race to thrive, having elevated cholesterol levels can cause strain on the heart, increasing the risk for heart disease, strokes, and heart attacks. The kinds of food we put in our bodies undoubtedly takes a toll on our cholesterol and health for better or for worse.
The molecular formula for cholesterol is C27H45OH and it is composed of the following: a hydrocarbon tail, a ring structure region, and a hydroxyl group. The hydrocarbon tail is composed of both hydrogen and carbon atoms and is non-polar, meaning that it only dissolves in oily or fatty substances, not water. The ring structure contains four hydrocarbon rings, which is also non-polar. This is the signature for all steroid hormones. The hydroxyl group is soluble in water, also known as polar. The two atom structure is what makes cholesterol an alcohol.
Cholesterol is categorized as an animal “sterol”, also known as sterol alcohol. It mentions animal as opposed to plant because, while rich in various other sterols, plants contains only trace amounts of cholesterol. Because it’s comprised of both a fat and water soluble region, cholesterol is considered amphipathic. However, cholesterol is not water soluble enough to dissolve in the blood. Lipoproteins such as LDL and HDL are used to travel through the blood.
LDL, short for low density lipoprotein, is often referred to as “bad” cholesterol. LDL transfers cholesterol from the protein and brings it to the bloodstream. High levels of LDL can lead to a buildup of plaque in the arteries. This buildup puts individuals at an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. Sources of saturated fats, fats with a single bond instead of a double bond, can easily increase the amount of LDL in the body. Trans fatty acids, are also responsible for elevated LDL levels. Unfortunately, the standard American diet is dangerously high in both saturated and trans fats and are particularly common at convenient fast food and quick service restaurants. The sources of LDL are almost never ending and include foods such as dairy products, red meats, processed meats (cold cuts, hot dogs), and deep fried foods.
Despite the common, black-and-white idea that there’s simply just good and bad cholesterol, there are two types of LDL, the “bad” cholesterol: small, dense LDL, and “fluffy” large LDL cholesterol. New studies show that while the dense LDL contributes to the buildup of plaque, the “fluffy” cholesterol does not.
The main issue with LDL is that it oxidizes and a chain reaction can occur, potentially reacting with vital components of cells.The oxidization causes activity of free radicals, unpaired atoms that form when molecules interact with oxygen. If free radicals react with a component like DNA, it can cause severe damage to the cells. Free radicals are frequently associated with diseases such as cancer,...