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Understanding how Cholesterol can Cause Heart Disease

Cholesterol is a fatty, wax-like substance produced by the human organism and found in a wide variety of foods rich in saturated fat. In normal amounts, cholesterol has a series of beneficial roles inside the body, protecting blood cells from damage and assisting a series of cellular processes. However, when in excess, cholesterol has a major contribution to heart disease, nowadays being renowned as one of the leading causes of heart failure and stroke.

The main reason why cholesterol causes heart disease is that it clogs the arteries, preventing the blood from circulating properly inside the body. When excessive amounts of cholesterol (especially bad cholesterol - LDL) accumulate inside the body and deposit inside arteries, they eventually lead to complete blockage of the arteries. When cholesterol completely blocks the coronary arteries (the arteries inside the heart), the result is complete heart failure – heart attack.

Normal, healthy arteries have a tough, harder exterior and a very soft interior (vital for proper blood flow). All three layers of arteries (the outer layer, mid layer and inner layer) are constructed from epithelial cells. While the outer layer is tough and the inner layer is smooth, the mid layer is muscular and elastic. Although all the layers of arteries have important roles in maintaining normal blood circulation, only the muscular layer has an active role in ensuring a healthy blood flow. The muscular arterial wall works in tandem with the heart; when the heart pumps blood into the arteries, the muscular layer relaxes, allowing the blood to completely fill the arteries; when the arteries are filled with blood, the muscular arterial layer contracts, pushing the blood in all the vascular regions of the body. The integrity of the arteries’ layers (the muscular layer in particular) is crucial for efficiently carrying out the blood (containing oxygen and nutrients) throughout the whole body.

When in excess, cholesterol compromises the integrity of the arterial walls, covering the soft, smooth inner arterial layer. Cholesterol deposition inside arteries eventually leads to the formation of a thick plaque that completely covers the smooth arterial layer and affects the elasticity of the muscular layer as well. The condition is called arteriosclerosis and in time it can lead to heart attack and stroke. Even when the condition is non-fatal (doesn’t involve the coronary arteries), it still considerably deteriorates one’s health by depriving the body of proper oxygen supplies and vital nutrients.

In order to efficiently prevent against deterioration of the arteries due to high cholesterol, one should respect a healthy dietary plan and get plenty of exercise (improve blood flow and help eliminate excess cholesterol). Cholesterol-lowering drugs are also a good option of preventing arteriosclerosis. Such medications help reduce cholesterol levels by either reducing the production of the substance inside the body or aiding the body excrete it from the system.

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