I will do my very best to keep this short and simple because I really want as many people as possible to read this. I think this is INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT INFORMATION, but it is also really disturbing that the role of cholesterol in the body is so hugely misunderstood.
So here goes ….. the first thing that is ultra-important to understand is that cholesterol is absolutely critical to life. Without it we die. FACT! Our bodies make loads of cholesterol. It is so important that the body doesn’t trust us to provide enough through food – so it makes it because it is needed by every cell in the body to form healthy cell walls; it is required for production of all steroid hormones in the body, which include the sex and stress hormones; the brain requires a constant supply of cholesterol for numerous functions including memory and production of the ‘feel-good’ brain chemicals; without cholesterol we cannot convert UVB rays from the sun into vitamin D and cholesterol is used to make bile which emulsifies fats in our diet. So, that’s really clear – we need lots of cholesterol
Secondly, the idea that there is good cholesterol and bad cholesterol is really misleading. Cholesterol is cholesterol, end of. The idea of good and bad or HDL (high density lipoproteins) considered good and LDL (low density lipoproteins) considered bad, actually refers to how cholesterol is transported around the body. Because cholesterol is a fat and gets transported in the blood, which is largely water, the 2 don’t mix. Therefore, cholesterol is taken to and from where it is needed by little carriers called lipoproteins, which also contain other fats and protein. Different sizes of lipoproteins exist depending on their role. Put simply, LDL is low density because the lipoprotein is carrying small, fresh, light cholesterol from where it is manufactured in the liver to where it is needed in the body and HDL is high density because it packs in lots of small bits of cholesterol that is picked up along the way back to the liver to be recycled – that’s how precious cholesterol is!
The probable reason for LDL being demonized is because of something that is actually really astounding about the way our bodies are always trying their very best to heal and protect. However, our modern diets and lifestyles are throwing the system: let me explain it really simply ….. free radicals cause damage to our cells. Diets high in sugar, trans fats, rancid fats, damaged fats etc. (see earlier blog) plus stress, poor nutrition and other toxic habits like smoking, burden the body with these cell damaging free radicals and create inflammation. As a result, over time the lining of our arteries can become damaged. When this happens the body gets the message to heal the damage pronto! LDLs are sent from the liver to the site of the damage and the fresh cholesterol is used to ‘patch up’ the damage, making good the damaged artery wall – so far so good. However, if this continues to happen, more and more cholesterol builds up on the arterial walls.
So, when someone is found to have blocked arteries, cholesterol is considered to be the culprit as it is found at the site of the blockage, yet this fails entirely in addressing the cause of the problem – why is the cholesterol there in the first place? If you have a healthy diet and lifestyle i.e. minimal sugar and damaged fats, lots of healthy fats (which includes saturated fat – next blog!), no smoking, limit the alcohol, regular exercise, manage your stress …. your risk of atherosclerosis – that is the damage to the lining of your arteries, will be greatly reduced. If you don’t have atherosclerosis, you don’t get the build up of cholesterol, you therefore don’t get heart disease and all the other associated health complications.
The fact that so many people are being put on Statins (these drugs stop the manufacture of cholesterol in the liver) is terrifying. Why would you want to stop such a vital process in the body? There is a condition where Statins are appropriate: familial hypercholesterolemia (quite a rare, inherited disorder where the body cannot clear excess cholesterol from the body), but unless you have this, I really want to encourage you to research this further and decide whether stopping your body producing a life critical substance is the best thing for you, or are there other factors in your diet and lifestyle that would benefit you more.