Are you ready to relearn all about cholesterol? There’s so much in the media that is based on old, false information, so it’s time that we set the record straight. Before we begin, make sure that you check out the links at the bottom of this post to check my sources and see where I got my information!
Disclaimer: Remember, I am not a medical doctor. The information in this post is for informational purposes only. I want you to learn and take the information back to your doctor and ask informed questions about your own cholesterol levels. Please keep this in mind as you read.
Alright. Let’s get started!
What is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a compound found in your body and in foods that is absolutely essential to your overall health and wellbeing. It is a waxy lipid that is in all of our cell membranes and blood plasma.
What Does Cholesterol Do?
Cholesterol’s main jobs include:
Building and maintaining cellular membranes
Metabolizing fat soluble vitamins, such as Vitamin A, D, E, and K
Producing bile, a substance that aids in digestion
Being the precursor to many hormones, including sex hormones
Helping repair damage in the body
How Much Do We Need?
As you can see, cholesterol has a wide variety of jobs, making it essential that we have enough of it in our bodies. Our liver produces some cholesterol in accordance to how much we take in via our diet. So if we eat more cholesterol, our body knows to make less and vice versa. Our body is super smart!
What Makes Up Cholesterol?
As you may already know, cholesterol is made up of a few different particles. First up is high density lipoproteins (HDL). HDL is usually known as the good or healthy cholesterol number, meaning you want this number to be as high as possible. HDL transfers cholesterol from tissues back to the liver. It also gets rid of extra cholesterol when the body’s done with it.
Next up is low density lipoproteins (LDL). LDL’s job is to transport cholesterol from the liver to the tissues after production, which is a super important job.
In the past, we’ve been told that HDL is good and LDL is bad, but that might not be 100% true. What makes the difference is the lipoprotein part of the equation.
Here’s the deal: LDL is made up of both small and large particles. Now the large, billowy particles are thought to have little to no significant role in heart disease. However, the smaller, denser particles are believed to be a part of the process of inflammation, which ultimately leads to heart disease.
Think about it – the smaller, denser particles would have a much easier time getting stuck in little small spaces in your arteries. Over time, these small particles will start to pile up and start to cause trouble, aka inflammation.
Oh and here’s the icing on the cake (sorry for the poor analogy!) – diets high in simple carbs (aka processed foods and sugars) promote the formation of the small, dense LDL particles! Not good. Not good.
Unfortunately, how many of you have ever been told by your doctor about the difference in the LDL particles? Nobody? I didn’t think so. Usually, the focus is kept at a macro view, HDL vs LDL, which is part of the problem, not the solution.
What does this mean? Well, this means that a high number of total cholesterol of 200+ may not be so bad if your HDL is high and your small particle LDL is low.
When Did Cholesterol Become the Bad Guy?
Heart disease really started to grow in the early 1900s, and doctors scrambled to try and find cures and solutions to the terrible disease. Early tests in the 1950s associated (wrongly!) cholesterol with heart disease because cholesterol was found in fat deposits along the artery walls. However, what we know now is that the cholesterol is present there as sort of a “band-aid” in response to inflammation. The cholesterol leaves when the inflammation decreases and repair takes place.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work this way. Usually, inflammation continues, instead of resolving, and plaque builds up and becomes oxidized, eventually forming a clot. So, all along, cholesterol was simply trying to help, rather than cause the problem which inflammation started in the first place.
So what did we do about it? We created drugs to “fix” it of course, which are known as statins. Stains inhibit the natural production of cholesterol. But what happens to the body’s natural and normal uses for cholesterol when it is no longer made in the body? What happens when you mess with the body’s natural processes?
You guessed it. Disaster.
Okay, let’s take it back to my last question: what happens when you mess with the body’s natural processes? Obviously, the body will react. If there’s not enough cholesterol, your body’s built-in alarm goes off, and your body enters into crisis mode. There isn’t enough cholesterol for the body’s repair system, for the uptake of serotonin, for the initiation of hormone production… the list goes on and on. Basically, the body is struggling.
So What Is the Real Problem?
You may have guessed it already – inflammation is the number one factor in heart disease. Inflammation can come from a variety of different sources, including diet, lifestyle, lack of sleep, stress, environmental toxins, etc. However typically, it is caused by excess simple and processed carbohydrates and trans fats. LDL rises directly with the rising levels of inflammation caused by processed carbs and trans fats.
Wait a minute, what about saturated fat? We’ve been told for years that saturated fat raises our cholesterol and is bad for our health. However, this is not the case. Saturated fat provides cholesterol to the body, yes, but as we’ve seen, cholesterol doesn’t cause heart disease. Inflammation does! And where do we get inflammation? Trans fats, simple carbs, and vegetable oils.
In addition, saturated fats also help make up about ½ of cell membrane structures, enhance calcium absorption, synthesis essential fatty acids, provide fat soluble vitamins, and boost immune function. So please, don’t cut them out! Instead, eat real, whole foods sources of saturated fat found in animal products and coconut oil.
Wow. What a post. I hope you stuck with me here to the end. Here’s the last bit of information I have for you – how to maintain true heart health.
It starts by keeping inflammation low. How do we do that? Eat real, whole, unprocessed foods (especially those high in omega-3s); sleep adequately (7+ hours) each night; reduce your stress; and incorporating exercise into your lifestyle.
Remember, you can find more information in the links below: