One of the most common areas of confusion when it comes to being healthy, is the issue of cholesterol. With GPs offering cholesterol testing as standard for anyone over 40 and home testing readily available, more and more people are aware of what their cholesterol levels are. But is this really helpful? There is a general assumption that high cholesterol is bad and low cholesterol is good. This is so massively simplistic and misinformed and leads to very dangerous and unnecessary behaviours such as low fat eating and excessive over-prescription of statins.
Cholesterol is absolutely critical to life ? it is a key part of every cell in the body as it makes a healthy cell wall allowing the cell to keep in the good stuff and eliminate the bad stuff, ensuring healthy cell function; it is used for hormone production including reproductive and stress hormones; it is used in digestion as it is required to produce bile acids which allow you to digest healthy fat in food and absorb fat soluble vitamins; cholesterol is instrumental in maintaining optimal vitamin D levels – UVB rays from the sun interact with cholesterol in your skin and convert it to vitamin D ? if your cholesterol is too low you will not be able to make vitamin D from the sun. Vitamin D is essential for bone health, immune function and mood regulation and most Westeners and critically low in vitamin D. The brain consists of about 25% of the body?s cholesterol, so it is required for healthy brain function too. Hence, your body is manufacteuring and pushing out over 70 – 80% of your cholesterol every second of every day – IT IS ESSENTIAL TO LIFE!
Cholesterol is so critical for life that the body cannot risk relying upon it from external sources and we even recycle the cholesterol that we make to ensure nothing is wasted – so how can cholesterol be bad for us?
Unless you have familial hypercholesterolemia (quite a rare, inherited disorder where the body cannot clear excess cholesterol from the body) then your focus should not be on fats in food that have been touted as cholesterol raising such as butter, eggs, shell fish etc. In fact, fat in food has a minimal impact on cholesterol levels and many good, natural fats will improve your cholesterol profile. What is critical is what happens to the cholesterol that your liver is producing and this is determined not by fats in your diet but by sugar levels, the kinds of fats that you eat and other factors that cause your body to be inflamed and damaged.
The idea that there is good and bad cholesterol is really misleading. HDL, the so called ‘good’ cholesterol, stands for high density lipoprotein, it does not refer to the cholesterol but how it is being carried around the body. LDL, so called ‘bad’ is low density lipoprotien. HDL takes cholesterol from your body?s tissues and arteries and brings it back to the liver to recycle it. If cholesterol were so bad, this cholesterol would be eliminated through the kidneys and intestine to be eliminated, not bought back to the liver to be used again. LDL carries fresh cholesterol from the liver and takes it to where it is needed for its various functions.
If you have high total cholesterol levels, it is essential you establish the breakdown of HDL and LDL. If you have a high levels of HDL (over 1.6) then your cholesterol is being well managed as any excess if being taken back to the liver and is not left lying around where it can oxidise (go rusty) and cause harm. If LDL levels are very high, it’s because the liver is being instructed to produce lots of fresh cholesterol for a reason. For example, if your arteries are damaged due to the inflammatory effect of high blood sugar and / or eating nasty fats like trans fats and cooking oils, your body will do its best to patch up the corrosive damage of these inflammatory foods by sealing over any cracks or flaking. If you continue to eat a low quality, highly inflammatory diet, your body will continue to send out the healing cholesterol but this then builds up and causes probelems. We also now know that as we get older, higher cholesterol levels are protective.
For quick and effective cholesterol rebalancing, the answer is not in taking a drug (statins) that simply prevent your liver from making this life-giving substance. As usual, this drug / symptom-relief approach fails to address the problem. Clean up you diet and lifestyle and your cholesterol will adjust accordingly. This entails all the old faves:
- move more
- sit less
- eat plenty of healthy fats: avocado, nuts, seeds, olive oil, oily fish, coconut, grass fed meat, butter & eggs?(BTW, the fat in the yolks of eggs is almost entirely HDL)
- plenty of fibre – a rainbow of veg and a little fruit daily
- fermented foods
- ginger and turmeric
- limit grains, but whole oats can be useful
- avoid refined sugar, refined grains and damaged, highly processed fats (all seed and vegetable oils and trans fats)
No statins needed!!