Did you know that dietary cholesterol or the cholesterol that is found in foods, such as egg yolks and butter is different from the cholesterol that is found in your blood? The cholesterol that is found in your blood is produced in your liver. According to Uffe Ravnskov, MD, PhD., author of Fat and Cholesterol are Good for you and The Cholesterol Myth “the cholesterol we eat only affects our blood level cholesterol about half of 1%”. I am here to tell you today that cholesterol is healthy and plays a vital role in achieving balanced hormones and an overall healthy hormone system.
What exactly is cholesterol anyway? Cholesterol is a waxy, fatty substance that is essential to the structure of all animal cells, it is required to maintain the cell membrane’s structure as well as the cell membrane’s fluidity. Remember from years ago in biology class when you learned that animal cells do not have cell walls, yep cholesterol is what helps allow this. Cholesterol helps create and protect the cell membrane. Cholesterol is a precursor to all of the body’s steroid hormones, which includes your stress and sex hormones. You need cholesterol to produce vitamin D, which plays a significant role in overall health. Cholesterol is also needed to produce bile acids, which are necessary for proper fat digestion. Every cell in your body needs cholesterol and adequate levels of it are required for overall health. I know this probably goes against everything you have ever been told.
Cholesterol is carried through the blood stream by lipoproteins. I am sure many of you have heard of High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL) and Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. I always remembered HDL was healthy or good because it started with “H” and LDL was lousy or bad because it started with “L”. Referring to one as “good” and one as “bad” is not accurate. It is more accurate to differentiate them by the functions they serve in the body. HDL carries cholesterol to the liver where it is processed and removed from the body. LDL carries cholesterol to sites of inflammation (arterial walls).
What do I believe all of this means? If you are worried about your cholesterol numbers, then now is a good time to make positive lifestyle changes. An easy way to raise your HDL is to eat a whole food, nutrient dense diet that includes saturated fats from sources such as coconut, eggs and avocado. When considering your LDL numbers, it is also important to address lifestyle changes. Remember LDL carries cholesterol to sites of inflammation. Finding the root cause of inflammation is important. Inflammation can be caused by physical, emotional and systemic stressors. Consuming inflammatory foods such as sugar and alcohol can have a negative effect on your cholesterol levels too. Although this is a very basic overview of cholesterol; here is what I hope you take away:
Your cholesterol is largely affected by your lifestyle choices, more so than eating foods that are high in cholesterol. High cholesterol is a symptom of a bigger problem. You can influence your cholesterol numbers by making lifestyle changes:
- Eat a nutrient dense diet that includes saturated fats
- Reduce stress
- Reduce sugar intake
- Reduce alcohol consumption
- Quit smoking and avoid exposure to second hand smoke
- Exercise to decrease body fat and increase lean muscle mass
I hope you consider this information and do more of your own research before believing that a pill is the answer to your high cholesterol. If your numbers are still high after you have reduced stress, addressed your nutrition and other lifestyle factors then it might be time to dig deeper into your overall health.
If you would like recommendations on additional resources please email me.
Jamey Floreck, NTP, CPT
Legal Disclaimer: The information presented in this article is intended for educational purposes only, and it has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information isn’t intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any conditions or disease, nor is it medical advice. One should always consult a qualified medical professional before engaging in any dietary and/or lifestyle changes.
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