Why is cholesterol important?
Cholesterol is an essential substrate for cell membrane formation, hormone synthesis, and a source of free fatty acids. Cholesterol also helps to make bile acids, metabolize vitamins like A, D, E, and K and hormones like estrogen and testosterone. There are many benefits to fat consumption, especially essential fatty acids such as Omega-3 and 6. Cholesterol is vital for cell and bodily function. Too much cholesterol can cause plaque formation in the arteries.
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a compound made from fats and proteins. Picture an avocado. The surface or skin consists of fats and proteins, and the core or pit consists mostly of triglycerides. These compounds are spherical shaped and classified as low-density lipoproteins, high-density lipoproteins, and very-low-density lipoproteins. High levels of low-density lipoproteins or LDL is a concern. High LDL levels can lead to heart and peripheral vascular disease. High levels are also linked to stroke and heart attacks.
You might be wondering why low-density is bad, and high-density is considered good. The density refers to the content of protein and lipid. Low-density lipoproteins are larger molecules and contain less protein and more fat components, while high-density lipoproteins contain almost double the amount of protein and less fat. The bottom line, too much of a large fatty spherical shaped compound floating around the blood, is a bad thing!
Why is LDL so bad?
LDL is the major cholesterol transport lipoprotein. When fasting or when people eat a balanced diet of essential fats, the LDL particles are used by the body efficiently and then destroyed by the liver. In a diet loaded with saturated fats, trans fats, and toxic vegetable oils, the LDL particles are numerous, and the composition of the particle changes. The particles can then attach to arteries and cause damage to organs and provoke an inflammatory response. The inflammatory cells respond by migrating to the damaged cells and arterial walls, creating a plaque formation. As more inflammatory cells and more cholesterol particles adhere to the area, plaque forms at the damaged cell wall. A cycle of injury and repair to the damaged area begins, and even more significant damage can occur, leading to a cap formation that protects the plaque. What happens when the plaque formation breaks from the cell wall? A stroke or a heart attack can occur.
Why is HDL so good?
HDL is involved in reverse cholesterol transport. Reverse cholesterol transport transfers excess cholesterol from peripheral tissues and causes LDL to be converted into bile acids by the liver. This whole process causes the peripheral arteries to get rid of excess cholesterol. Frequent exercise increases HDL levels.
What are triglycerides?
Triglycerides are the chemical form in which most fat exists in the body. They can be broken down for energy and are critical for brain function. Just like with LDL, too much free-floating triglycerides are a risk factor for stroke, heart attack peripheral vascular disease.
High triglycerides can be a sign of another issue, such as diabetes and pancreatitis. High triglycerides usually go hand in hand with high LDL levels, but that is not always the case. Excessive consumption of sugar and unhealthy saturated fats are the primary cause of high cholesterol. Excess sugar is converted into triglycerides and stored in the adipose tissue. When the fatty tissue begins to “fill up,” the excess triglycerides are kept floating around the blood.
How can I keep my cholesterol numbers in the “good” range?
The simple answer is to eat less processed fats and sugars. Remove foods high in solid-fats like grain-based desserts, pizza, full-fat cheese, fried anything, and diary-based desserts from your diet. Keep in mind that too much sugar can be just as detrimental to your cholesterol levels as a high intake of unhealthy fats. Limit the use of harmful oils like soybean, corn, canola, and palm oil. These oils are found in many conventional packaged foods and restaurant cook with them because they are cheap!
Healthy sources of fats include olive oil, coconut oil, avocados, and avocado oil, salmon, grass-fed beef, nuts, and seeds like flaxseed.
Increasing HDL levels can also keep LDL levels within range. Start by adding daily exercise and aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous each week.
The Bottom Line
High cholesterol is not a sign of natural aging. High cholesterol is a direct result of poor diet and inactivity. Minimize and eliminate highly processed foods and fast food restaurant stops and increase exercise and real foods.