23 Apr
2009

Cholesterol has many vital functions in our body, including:

•    Membrane function. Cholesterol forms part of the cell membrane of each cell in our body. Because it is a hard fat, it gives the membranes rigidity and stability.

•     Synthesis of steroid hormones. The sex hormones oestrogen, progesterone, DHEA and testosterone are made out of cholesterol. This is a worry if millions of people are being prescribed cholesterol lowering drugs.

•     Synthesis of adrenal hormones. The hormone aldosterone regulates water and sodium balance in our body and is made out of cholesterol. Cortisol is a hormone that regulates metabolism, suppresses inflammation and is produced as a response to stress. When we are under chronic stress our bodies manufacture a great deal more cholesterol.

•     Bile production. 80 percent of the cholesterol in our body is used by the liver to produce bile salts. Bile is stored in the gallbladder and used to help in the digestion and absorption of dietary fats and fat soluble vitamins. This is the major route of exit of cholesterol from our body. Bile is secreted into our intestines and leaves the body in bowel movements.

•     Vitamin D synthesis. Sunlight hitting our skin converts cholesterol into vitamin D, which is needed to keep our bones strong. Vitamin D has other important functions in our body; it boosts the immune system and helps to keep the blood pressure normal. Getting a bit of sunlight on your skin most days of the week can help to lower your cholesterol level by facilitating its conversion to vitamin D.

•     Skin protection. Cholesterol is secreted into our skin, where it covers and protects us from dehydration, cracking and the drying effects of the elements. It helps to keep your skin looking plump and wrinkle free. Cholesterol has a role in healing, as high amounts of it are found in scar tissue.

•     Serotonin function. Cholesterol is necessary for the function of serotonin receptors in the brain. Serotonin is a feel-good chemical that helps to protect us from depression. Several studies have shown that low cholesterol levels are associated with depression and violent behaviour.

•     Myelin sheath formation. Cholesterol is the main fat present in the myelin sheath, which coats our nerve cells and enables electrical impulses to occur in our brain and spinal cord. A healthy myelin sheath is needed for good concentration and memory.

•     Antioxidant function. Cholesterol helps to transport fat soluble antioxidants around our body, such as vitamins E and A and several antioxidant enzymes.

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