Everything You Need To Know About Cholesterol
Cholesterol Myths and What to Eat Instead
Historically there’s been a bit of an over-emphasis (borderlining obsession) about cholesterol and how it affects your health.
Often people are concerned about cholesterol without anyone ever explaining to them what it actually is.
While cholesterol is an actual molecule what it is bound to while it’s floating through your blood is what’s more important than just how much of it there is overall. In fact depending on what it’s combined with can have opposite effects on your arteries and heart. Yes, opposite!
So cholesterol is just one component of a compound that floats around your blood. These compounds contain cholesterol as well as fats and special proteins called “lipoproteins”.
They’re grouped into two main categories:
HDL: High Density Lipoprotein (AKA “good” cholesterol) that “cleans up” some of those infamous “arterial plaques” and transports cholesterol back to the liver.
LDL: Low Density Lipoprotein (AKA “bad” cholesterol) that transports cholesterol from the liver (and is the kind found to accumulate in arteries and become easily oxidized hence their “badness”).
And yes, it’s even more complicated than this. Each of these categories is further broken down into subcategories which can also be measured in a blood test.
So “cholesterol” isn’t simply cholesterol which is harmful, it has very different effects on your body depending on which other molecules it’s bound to in your blood and what it is actually doing there.
So, the old “Cholesterol’s Bad” Myth
Cholesterol is absolutely necessary for your body to produce critical things like vitamin D when your skin is exposed to the sun, your sex hormones (e.g. estrogen and testosterone), as well as bile to help you absorb dietary fats. Not to mention that it’s incorporated into the membranes of your cells.
You get that it’s an important molecule now, right?
The overall amount of cholesterol in your blood (AKA “total cholesterol”) isn’t nearly as important as how much of each kind you have in your blood.
It’s the ration of LDL compared with HDL in your blood that’s important to note. Too much LDL compared with HDL may be associated with an increased risk of heart disease although it is absolutely not the only thing to consider for heart health.
Eating cholesterol increases your bad cholesterol, or does it?
Most of the cholesterol in your blood is made by your liver. It’s actually not from the cholesterol you eat. In fact, cholesterol medications block an enzyme in your liver (HMG Co-A reductase, to be exact) because that’s where your cholesterol comes from!
In fact, what you eat does affect how much cholesterol your liver produces but not necessarily in a bad way. After a cholesterol-rich meal your liver doesn’t need to make as much so it switches it’s cholesterol production line into slow-mode.
Is the aim to get your cholesterol as low as possible?
As with almost everything in health and wellness there’s a balance that needs to be maintained. There are very few extremes that are going to serve you well.
People with too-low levels of cholesterol have increased risk of death from other non-heart-related issues like certain types of cancers and in fact, suicide so trying to get your cholesterol too low can have negative effects.
Are Drugs are the only way to get a good cholesterol balance?
Don’t start or stop any medications without talking with your doctor.
And while drugs can certainly lower the “bad” LDL cholesterol they don’t seem to be able to raise the “good” HDL cholesterol all that well.
Guess what does?
Nutrition and exercise!
One of the most impactful ways to lower your cholesterol with diet is to eat lots of fruits and veggies. And we mean lots, up to 10 servings a day. Every day.
You can (should?) also exercise, lose weight, stop smoking, and eat better quality fats. That means fatty fish, avocados and olive oil. Ditch those over-processed hydrogenated “trans” fats.
So as you can see the science of cholesterol and heart health is complicated and we’re learning more every day. Cholesterol doesn’t necessarily need to be the scary subject it’s made out to be. And there is a lot you can do from a nutrition and lifestyle perspective to improve your cholesterol level.
If you want any further help on this or other lifestyle or weight management issues please get in touch. We’re happy to help.