What is cholesterol in simple terms? Is arteriosclerosis the same as atherosclerosis?

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a waxy, fatlike substance produced by the liver, present in all animal tissue. It is an important substance with many functions in the body. It is a building block of cells, the starting molecule for the synthesis of many hormones including sex hormones as well as bile acids (produced by the liver and secreted into the intestines during a meal to help digest fats) and many other substances, like vitamin D.

When cholesterol is found in foods, it is referred to as dietary cholesterol. Dietary cholesterol is present in animal foods meat, fish, eggs, and dairy products. When we eat food containing cholesterol, this cholesterol is absorbed from the intestines into the bloodstream. The cholesterol found in the blood is a combination of the cholesterol absorbed from food and the cholesterol synthesized by the liver. This is what is measured when you have a blood test and is referred to as serum cholesterol or blood cholesterol. Even though we call one dietary cholesterol and the other serum cholesterol, the cholesterol molecule is the same in both cases.

Plants do not have any cholesterol, but the cells of all plants contain similar substances called phytosterols (from phytos , the Greek word for plant). Phytosterols are not absorbed by the body and will actually block some of the cholesterol in your diet from being absorbed which is one of the many reasons plant based diets are healthful. Your body makes all the cholesterol you need. If your diet contains too much additional cholesterol, your blood cholesterol levels will go up, contributing to your risk of atherosclerosis.

Is arteriosclerosis the same as atherosclerosis? 

The words are almost interchangeable, but the word atherosclerosis is now used more commonly. Arterio means something that belongs to an artery, and athcro means something gruel like, soft, and pasty.

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