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Home Health Disease Health Cholesterol
About Cholesterol

Physiology

Since cholesterol is essential for all animal life, each cell synthesizes it from simpler molecules, a complex 37-step process that starts with the intracellular protein enzyme HMG-CoA reductase. However, normal and particularly high levels of fats (including cholesterol) in the blood circulation, depending on how they are transported within lipoproteins, are strongly associated with the progression of atherosclerosis.

Dietary sources

Animal fats are complex mixtures of triglycerides, with lesser amounts of phospholipids and cholesterol. As a consequence, all foods containing animal fat contain cholesterol to varying extents. Major dietary sources of cholesterol include cheese, egg yolks, beef, pork, poultry, fish, and shrimp. Human breast milk also contains significant quantities of cholesterol.

Biosynthesis

All animal cells manufacture cholesterol for their use, with relative production rates varying by cell type and organ function. About 20–25% of total daily cholesterol production occurs in the liver; other sites of higher synthesis rates include the intestines, adrenal glands, and reproductive organs.

Regulation of cholesterol synthesis

Biosynthesis of cholesterol is directly regulated by the cholesterol levels present, though the homeostatic mechanisms involved are only partly understood. A higher intake from food leads to a net decrease in endogenous production, whereas lower intake from food has the opposite effect. The main regulatory mechanism is the sensing of intracellular cholesterol in the endoplasmic reticulum by the protein SREBP (sterol regulatory element-binding protein 1 and 2).

Cholesteric liquid crystals

Some cholesterol derivatives (among other simple cholesteric lipids) are known to generate the liquid crystalline "cholesteric phase". The cholesteric phase is, in fact, a chiral nematic phase, and it changes colour when its temperature changes. This makes cholesterol derivatives useful for indicating temperature in liquid crystal display thermometers and in temperature-sensitive paints.

Hypocholesterolemia

Abnormally low levels of cholesterol are termed hypocholesterolemia. Research into the causes of this state is relatively limited, but some studies suggest a link with depression, cancer, and cerebral hemorrhage. In general, the low cholesterol levels seem to be a consequence, rather than a cause, of an underlying illness. A genetic defect in cholesterol synthesis causes Smith-Lemli-Opitz syndrome, which is often associated with low plasma cholesterol levels.

Cholesterol testing

The American Heart Association recommends testing cholesterol every five years for people aged 20 years or older. A separate set of American Heart Association guidelines issued in 2013 indicates that patients taking statin medications should have their cholesterol tested 4–12 weeks after their first dose and then every 3–12 months thereafter.

A blood sample after 12-hour fasting is taken by a doctor, or a home cholesterol-monitoring device is used to determine a lipoprotein profile. This measures total cholesterol, LDL (bad) cholesterol, HDL (good) cholesterol, and triglycerides.

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