As a health coach and nutritionist, I often deal with clients who have “high cholesterol”. They are told to avoid foods that have this “deadly” substance, and 9 out of 10 times those same foods have NEVER been apart of there normal diet. Cholesterol has be vilified in the health and medical industry for years due to out dated research, which has led to many people being prescribed cholesterol lowering medication that simply puts a band-aid on the real underlying issue. They are put on inappropriate diets, which further compounds the issue in the first place. Well, new research has shown that dietary cholesterol has no impact on the cholesterol levels in your body, and no association with heart diseases (1,2).
What is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is an extremely important fat-like substances found in animals products, including beef, eggs and shellfish. Humans are also animals, which means our bodies naturally produce cholesterol. Our livers produce more than 80% of the cholesterol found in our blood, and less than 20% comes from the food that we eat.
Cholesterol is a key component of every cell in your body. It is needed for the formation of Vitamin D and vital hormones (testosterone, estrogen, cortisol, aldosterone, progesterone etc.). Cholesterol is also needed so that your body can actually absorb important fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K) (3). Cholesterol does not mix well with liquids (blood), so it is packaged with lipoproteins, creating what we know as LDL “bad cholesterol” and HDL “good cholesterol”.
The production of cholesterol in the body is actually inversely related to the amount of cholesterol that you consume. The more cholesterol you eat, the less is produced from the liver and the less cholesterol you eat, the more is produced (4).
Generally, when someone has high cholesterol their doctor will prescribe them with the latest cholesterol lower drug. When you artificially lower your cholesterol, your also lowering your bodies ability to make important sex hormones (testosterone for men, estrogen for women), absorb essential vitamins and compromising the structure of your cells.
The Cholesterol Myth
For a long time now, the consensus has been that if you consume foods high in cholesterol, you will have high LDL “bad cholesterol” which leads to clog arteries and heart disease.
The Truth About Cholesterol
Another one of the very important rolls of cholesterol is to heal and repair damaged cells. Where ever there is inflammation or damage, you will find cholesterol at the site helping to repair and rebuild new cells. So the real culprit is actually damaged arteries and chronic inflammation. In a healthy person, when there is injury or damage in the body, a signal is sent to the liver to release cholesterol. The cholesterol works to “cover” the damaged site and form a scar, or “plaque”.
Cholesterol is also important in the formation of fat, in a process known as lipogenesis. Lipogenesis is the process of creating fat in your body, and is stimulated by a high carbohydrate diet (5).
So, when your body is under constant stress and chronic inflammation your liver is constantly producing cholesterol to help heal and repair the damage that is occurring to your arteries. In the early research, doctors saw a patient with heart disease and noticed a bunch of cholesterol in the blood and arteries. In earlier research, doctors made the conclusion that cholesterol is causing heart disease. It’s the same conclusion that we can make when we go to the scene of a burning building. The building is on fire, there are a bunch of fire fighters in and around the building, so we can conclude that the fire fighters started the fire. Does that make sense??
Foods that Cause Inflammation
Foods that cause inflammation and damage to our bodies should be avoided at all cost. If consumed on a regularly bases, you’ll be contributing to inflammation and increased levels of cholesterol in your blood. Below are a few of the major culprits, and actually make up a majority of the foods that are typically consume by the average american.
- Fast Food
- Fried Foods
- Processed Foods (Snacks, Meats)
- Dairy Substitutes (margarine, “can’t believe it’s not butter” etc.)
The real culprit of many chronic diseases, including heart disease is chronic inflammation and damage to our cells. Cholesterol plays a vital role in keeping our bodies healthy and functional. Humans can not function without cholesterol, and artificially lowering this important component leads to many life threatening issues. The underlying issues that need to be addressed when dealing with elevated cholesterol levels are lifestyle habits. We need to look at a person stress level, eating habits, environmental factors, quality of drinking water, access to healthy foods, etc. What have you heard about cholesterol? Is this your first time hearing that we actually need and benefit from it? Leave a comment below!