Cholesterol is a high molecular weight alcohol (yes, alcohol) that is manufactured in the liver as well as most of our cells. Despite what you might have heard, cholesterol is absolutely vital to our health.
You have certainly heard about the two common types – low density lipoprotein (LDL) and high density lipoprotein (HDL). But there are actually three:
- High-density lipoproteins (HDL) carry cholesterol from the blood back to the liver, which processes it for elimination from the body.
- Low-density lipoproteins (LDL) carry cholesterol from the liver to the rest of the body. We’ve also included VLDL (very low density lipoproteins) in this group.
- Oxidized lipoproteins are lipoproteins that have been damaged by oxidation and glycation from a diet high in sugar and “unstable” fats.
When it comes to the health of your cardiovascular system, it’s not high levels of LDL (often referred to as “bad” cholesterol) that are to blame for an increased health risk. Rather, it is damaged cholesterol that promotes heart disease.
Cholesterol Confusion: Misconceptions About This Vital Substance
Let’s examine the two false concepts about this unique substance:
- Cholesterol in food equals cholesterol in the blood
- High cholesterol levels in your blood promote heart disease
You might remember when the USDA advised people to limit their egg consumption due to their high level of cholesterol. The truth is cholesterol in food does not translate into cholesterol in the blood. In fact, in most people about 75% of cholesterol in the body is made in the liver. Only about 25% is absorbed from food.
The second false concept about cholesterol is that cholesterol in the blood causes heart disease. It is not cholesterol itself that is to blame, but oxidized cholesterol!
And there are three ways in which cholesterol gets oxidized:
- A high-glycemic diet
- The consumption of unstable, inflammatory omega-6 fats
- Too few antioxidants and too many free radicals
Oxidized cholesterol injures arterial cells and contributes to the buildup of plaque in the arteries. The body treats this as if it is a wound. And in its efforts to heal the damage, inflammation ensues. Inflammation is the real cause of heart disease.
The Role of Cholesterol in The Body
Now let’s take a look at how this substance works in the body:
- Healthy Cell Membranes: Coupled with saturated fats, cholesterol in cell membranes provides our cells with the necessary stiffness and stability. When the diet contains an excess of polyunsaturated fatty acids (omega 6 fats), these fats replace saturated fatty acids in the cell membrane, so that the cell walls actually become flabby. When this happens, cholesterol from the blood is “driven” into the tissues to give them structural integrity. This is why serum cholesterol levels may go down temporarily when we replace saturated fats with polyunsaturated oils in the diet.
- Hormone Regulation: Cholesterol acts as a precursor to vital corticosteroids. These are hormones that help us deal with stress and protect the body against heart disease and cancer. Cholesterol is also a precursor to the sex hormones like androgen, testosterone, estrogen and progesterone. Furthermore, it is a precursor to vitamin D – a vital fat-soluble hormone-like vitamin that is needed for healthy bones and nervous system, mineral metabolism, cancer prevention, muscle tone, insulin production, reproduction and immune system function.
- Healthy Digestion: Bile salts are made from cholesterol. Bile is vital for digestion and assimilation of fats in the diet. Without cholesterol, we could not absorb fats. Dietary cholesterol also plays an important role in maintaining the health of the intestinal wall. This is why low-cholesterol vegetarian diets can lead to leaky gut syndrome and other intestinal disorders.
- Antioxidant Ability: Recent research shows that cholesterol acts as an antioxidant. This is the likely explanation for the fact that cholesterol levels go up with age. As an antioxidant, cholesterol protects us against free radical damage that leads to heart disease and cancer.
- Natural Anti-Depressant: Cholesterol is needed for proper function of serotonin receptors in the brain. Serotonin is the body’s natural “feel-good” chemical. Low cholesterol levels have been linked to aggressive and violent behavior, depression and suicidal tendencies.
- Powerful Memory Protection: Research shows that low cholesterol levels are correlated with memory loss, and higher levels of cholesterol protect the brain.
Is Your Cholesterol Oxidized?
For years you’ve been getting your cholesterol checked. Right? Turns out, it may have been for naught.
That’s because standard cholesterol tests only provide information on the levels and ratios of cholesterol in your blood. But what’s really important to your health…is the health of your cholesterol.
Damaged, or oxidized, cholesterol is the real culprit of heart disease. Learn about how you can get this important measure of heart health checked in 20 Lifesaving Tests Your Doctor Hasn’t Performed (And Should!) and protect your cholesterol from oxidation by enjoying the low- glycemic, antioxidant-rich diet we promote at Healing Gourmet.