The liver is intimately involved with the manufacture, use and dysfunction associated with cholesterol. Refresh your familiarity with cholesterol’s components and aim for their desired numeric values, to provide your liver with the best ratios to work with.
Typically assumed to inflict solely negative consequences, cholesterol is actually a necessary component of a healthy body. Cholesterol is a waxy substance in the blood, critical in the digestion of dietary fats, the building of cell walls and in manufacturing vitamins and hormones. One of the secrets to securing a healthy body, including a healthy liver, is to maintain an ideal balance of cholesterol levels.
If cholesterol levels are too high, a person is at risk for coronary artery disease, heart disease, a metabolic disorder or even liver disease. Embedded in vehicles known as lipoproteins, cholesterol is transported in the bloodstream to be used or excreted throughout the body. When these inhabitants of our blood become overpopulated, traffic jams can result, blocking subsequent blood flow in the vessels. Impeded circulation is a primary factor in most types of illness.
Cholesterol and the Liver
Excessive cholesterol in the blood can deposit plaques along the vessels, contributing to the development of atherosclerosis, the hardening of the arteries. While atherosclerosis is a leading cause of heart attacks and strokes, it can also have negative consequences on the liver. The relationship between the liver and blood cholesterol is multi-faceted:
· Synthesis of bile acids – Essential to the digestive process, the liver synthesizes bile acids from cholesterol. Bile acids emulsify dietary fat, allowing for its absorption in the intestines.
· Liver circulation – Liver disease, particularly cirrhosis, can lead to portal hypertension. Portal hypertension is the result of high blood pressure within the portal vein, where the blood enters the liver. When blood cannot flow easily through the liver, internal pressure increases, posing the risk of ruptured blood vessels. Cholesterol deposits may also contribute to decreased blood flow in the liver, further restricting the vessels that safely handle the liver’s duties.
· Removal of cholesterol – High-density lipoproteins (HDL) help remove excessive cholesterol from the body by transporting it to the liver for its breakdown and excretion. As a diseased liver’s function decreases, do does its ability to remove excessive cholesterol from the blood supply.
What is Excessive Cholesterol?
According to the American Heart Association, about 20 percent of the U.S. population has high blood cholesterol levels. When getting your cholesterol checked, there are four numeric values that come into play – total cholesterol, LDL (low-density lipoproteins), HDL (high-density lipoproteins) and triglycerides.
· Total Cholesterol – A comprehensive measurement of the cholesterol in your blood, it is desirable to have a value less than 200 mg/dL. A person carries a borderline level of health risks if the total cholesterol is between 200-239 mg/dL, and is considered high risk if total cholesterol exceeds 239 mg/dL.
· LDL – This cholesterol is the primary cause of harmful fatty buildup in arteries. The higher the LDL cholesterol levels in the blood, the greater the health risk. Ideal LDL levels are below 100 mg/dL, while values exceeding 159 mg/dL carry a high risk of cardiovascular disease.
· HDL – This form carries blood cholesterol back to the liver, where it can be eliminated. HDL helps prevent a cholesterol buildup in blood vessels. While values typically range from 40 to 60 mg/dL, an HDL under 40 mg/dL puts the individual at risk for cardiovascular disease. Studies suggest that high levels of HDL cholesterol reduce your risk of heart attack.
· Triglycerides – Triglycerides are the chemical form in which most fat exists in food as well as in the body. Triglyceride levels under 150 mg/dL are normal, while values exceeding 199 mg/dL carry a high risk of cardiovascular disease.
Due to the delicate balance of useful cholesterol and damaging cholesterol, most physicians rely on specific ratios of these four numeric values to determine healthy blood cholesterol.
Liver Benefits from Good Cholesterol Ratio
The public is being increasingly educated on the various ways to maintain the best possible cholesterol levels. These include lifestyle modifications, such as smoking cessation, regular exercise, a diet high in fiber and low in saturated fat, as well as reliance on cholesterol lowering medications.
Awareness of cardiovascular risk by improving your cholesterol ratio will benefit not only your heart’s health, but also your liver’s health. While the heart muscle pumps blood throughout the body, the liver must cleanse the blood and extract ingredients critical to sustaining life.
Just as the heart and liver contribute to blood maintenance health, all of our organs and body systems work in unison to support the proper functioning of our bodies. Factors that affect one system will likely affect every other. So if optimal liver health is desired, then steps to increase HDL and decrease LDL and triglycerides are definitely called for.
Henkel, John, Keeping Cholesterol Under Control, FDA Consumer Magazine, January/February 1999.
www.abouthypertension.info, Health Issues Associated with Hypertension, NCERx LLC 2006.
www.americanheart.org, About Cholesterol, American Heart Association, Inc., 2006.
www.liverdisease.com, Cholesterol and Liver Disease/Hepatitis, Melissa Palmer, MD, 2004.