The most controversial topic ever in the history of human health and nutrition is cholesterol. This molecule has shouldered the blame for decades in relation to heart disease. The death rate from heart disease is staggering, accounting for 1 in 3 deaths. This can occur due to stroke and cardiovascular disease. In North America, each day, a death related to heart disease and stroke occurs every 40 seconds. That is approximately 2,000 deaths daily and there is no discrimination between sexes. Both men and women are greatly affected.
It has been speculated for over 60 years that dietary cholesterol raises blood cholesterol. But newer studies and literature are now stating otherwise.
Only a handful of doctors have dispelled the notion that dietary cholesterol is solely to blame for the increase in our own cholesterol. We are witnessing an underlying culprit, and that is inflammation. Studies are showing that inflammation is the root cause behind this chronic life-threatening disease. Is this molecule drastically misunderstood? Do the medical, pharmaceutical and media industries have it all wrong? I believe many have cholesterol wrong, we need to look at individual factors and ask “why does cholesterol increase?”.
So what is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a waxy fat that is found in all cells throughout our bodies. It makes up the outer layer of all cells and nerves. In order to be transported through the blood and for delivery into cells, it is bound to a protein, normally referred to as a lipoprotein or chylomicron.
There are 5 types of cholesterol carriers, however I will focus on the two most common, HDL & LDL. The density and size of a lipoprotein (protein found in blood and is used as a carrier of cholesterol, sort of like a taxi) will determine how much cholesterol is carried in the blood. For instance - HDL, high density lipoproteins are like large balls carrying a small amount of cholesterol. HDL carries cholesterol away from our tissues to the liver. LDL, low density lipoproteins are smaller balls carrying higher amounts of cholesterol. LDL carries cholesterol to cells.
Here are some interesting facts:
▸ Cholesterol may be used as a healing mechanism by the body to heal damage to our internal structures, such as arteries and veins from inflammation
▸ Our liver makes most of the cholesterol we need
▸ Life would cease to exist without cholesterol
▸ Cholesterol is required for the production of all steroid hormones such as:
Progesterone Aldosterone (mineral balance)
Bile (a non-hormone) is made from cholesterol. Bile is stored in the gallbladder and is used to emulsify (break into little droplets) fats. Bile also acts as a scrubbing agent for the small intestine, keeping it healthy as well as keeping a synergistic balance of bacteria.
As previously noted, cholesterol helps to make up the outer layer of all cells and nerves in our bodies. It is an absolute necessity for brain function and cell to cell communication. We know that long term consequences can arise when cholesterol production is disrupted. Too high and too low cholesterol may have negative consequences. A hereditary disorder called Familial Hypercholesterolemia is an inherited defect passed down through families and is associated with higher amounts of cholesterol in the blood due to an inability to recycle LDL.
It is important to know that UVB light from our sun requires cholesterol underneath the skin in order to make Vitamin D. A refined carbohydrate and excess sugar diet can cause elevated cholesterol. Excess and prolonged sugars found in blood can cause damage to arteries, veins and capillaries, increasing inflammation. People with uncontrolled blood sugar and diabetes have increased chances of developing atherosclerosis (plaque buildup). Stress in all forms is associated with elevated cholesterol levels. One of the most important discoveries is that prolonged cholesterol in the blood can become oxidized by free radicals which leads to inflammation.
Statins are one of the most prescribed drugs in North America. Statins are formulated to reduce high cholesterol in people who suffer with this condition. Long term use of statins comes with a taxing price because studies have shown that statins increase our chances of developing type 2 diabetes as well as a lengthy list of side effects including memory issues such as forgetfulness, muscle weakness including hernias and other soft tissue damage, low mood and depression, low libido and erectile dysfunction and many more. There is evidence included in heart failure statistics that heart attacks still occur in those on cholesterol lowering medications.
Often missed questions are “Why is cholesterol elevated?”, and “What can we do to reduce levels of LDL?” The truth is LDL can be lowered naturally by improving our diet and incorporating healthy lifestyle habits. It is in our best interest that we explore our options of nutritional therapy.
Early action is our greatest opportunity to prevent heart disease. It is vital to our health to get screened by our medical provider, to know our status, and to address any concerns with a Holistic Nutritionist to naturally lower our chances of heart disease and stroke with a nutrition and lifestyle plan.
This disease is preventable. Being proactive is the best approach to begin healing.
To address concerns we have to look at our lifestyle and incorporate a personalized approach to lower our risk of developing abnormal cholesterol. There are a number of factors that may be behind the issue of excessive cholesterol production and most underlying causes are different. Once causes are determined, a protocol to address the issue can be recommended.
Find out what you can do to help reduce your risk of heart disease.