Typically when cholesterol is of topic, it’s spoken about in such a negative manner. It’s no wonder that very few know how protective and important cholesterol is. In order to change this mindset, one must understand cholesterol’s many roles in the body.
Anyone with a family history of heart disease or unfavorable blood test has likely been told to do the following: Increase your intake of HDL (“good cholesterol”) and lower your intake of LDL (“bad cholesterol”). Here’s a little insight on this recommendation.
HDL and LDL | These letters stand for high-density and low-density lipoproteins. HDL and LDL chauffeur cholesterol (a fat) through the bloodstream. About half of your blood is made up of water, which makes transporting fats a bit of a process. If you’ve ever dropped oil into water or vinegar, you would know that it’s quite difficult to remove or control the oil. You would also notice that the two don’t mix no matter how hard you try. These lipoproteins transport cholesterol from the liver through the bloodstream in order to be utilized by the body. HDL plays the best role in transporting cholesterol because of its many functions. This doesn’t necessarily mean that LDL is bad, but rather lacking compared to HDL.
So then what is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a type of fat found in the body composed of a steroid and an alcohol. Dietary sources of cholesterol include animal products such as red meat, eggs, dairy, fish, and other animal meats. The majority of cholesterol in the body is synthesized in the liver, so much that only about 15-20% comes from the food you eat. If you make a point to limit your cholesterol intake through diet, then guess what your body does-- it increases cholesterol synthesis and makes up for whatever you’ve taken out of the diet. This point alone should show you that cholesterol MUST be important. Why else would the body go through a 37-step process to make it??
The body determines how much cholesterol to produce based off of the body’s ability to adapt to stress. Contrary to popular belief, cholesterol is protective. Cholesterol is the precursor to the protective steroidal hormones such as progesterone, dhea, testosterone, cortisol, and estrogen to name a few. These hormones are necessary for life. They mandate the stress and immune responses in the body. Similarly, if you hinder the body’s ability to produce or utilize cholesterol with a statin, you halt production of your sex hormones. Hello, low libido.
The active thyroid hormone T3 and vitamin A are necessary for converting cholesterol into the steroidal hormones. This explains why low-thyroid function is typically paired with high cholesterol.
Cholesterol is required for the production of bile acids, which are secreted by the gallbladder during digestion. Bile acids are secreted into the small intestine as food passes through. What good is the food you eat if you can't break it down? Without bile, you would not be able to break down any fat that you consume, much less the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. Vitamin D3, which has hormone-like effects and activates T cells of the immune system, is synthesized when sunlight and cholesterol are present. This explains why cold/flu season packs it’s usual punch in the winter since sun exposure is drastically lower than in the summer.
Cholesterol is powerful in repairing damaged blood vessels, which would explain why cholesterol binds to artery walls and gets deemed as the sole perpetrator for heart disease. Arteries are the blood vessels that transport blood away from the heart. These blood vessels deal with a higher pressure system seeing as though they are carrying the force of the blood straight from the powerful contractions of the heart. More pressure equals more damage overtime, especially in conjunction with negative lifestyle, diet, and exercise factors.
Don’t get me wrong on all of this. I am not saying that a build up of cholesterol is a good thing. Instead, I want to bring attention to the fact that your cholesterol levels are symptomatic of a bigger issue. There’s no need for cholesterol to pool on healthy walls. If cholesterol is too high, this is your body’s way of trying to protect itself. The “solution” of taking cholesterol out of the system seems like a very short-term plan that yields the development of more issues.
My goal is to encourage you to challenge the current norms. It’s not for the sake of rebellion, but for the sake of taking initiative when it comes to your health and recognizing that current dietary/health guidelines aren’t working. The statin drug market is at ~$20 billion and is estimated to increase by ~5% each year for the next five years. Those numbers are overwhelming. If I can ask that you take away anything from this post, it's this:
The go-to "solution" to high cholesterol shouldn’t be to remove it from the system altogether. Knowing the fundamental functions of cholesterol, work with your healthcare professional to find out why your numbers are askew, and work at the root issue(s) instead.
Looking out for the bigger picture,