The Importance of Cholesterol (It's not the bad guy!)
Cholesterol has gotten a bad reputation over the years. While it’s true that too much of certain forms of cholesterol can cause major damage in the body, other forms are absolutely vital to our health and well-being.
Cholesterol is produced in the liver and is actually a steroid that forms the backbone for the body’s adrenal and sex hormones. It is also a structural component of all cell membranes and is crucial in the exchange of nutrients and waste materials.
Cholesterol insulates our nerves: our central nervous system (brain, spinal cord and nerves) contains nearly one-quarter of our body’s cholesterol!
In fact, one large study conducted by Dutch researchers found that those with chronically low cholesterol levels showed a consistently higher risk of having depressive symptoms. This may be because cholesterol affects the metabolism of serotonin, our mood regulating and happy hormone.
Cholesterol is also required for the digestion of fat and is responsible for converting sunlight into vitamin D.
There are two types of cholesterol: low-density lipoprotein (LDL), “BAD” cholesterol, and high-density lipoprotein (HDL), “GOOD” cholesterol. When LDL levels get too high, plaque will slowly build up on the walls of blood vessels, narrowing the arteries and therefore putting more stress on the heart and forcing it to work harder. If too much plaque accumulates, blood flow and oxygen to the heart is obstructed, causing chest pain. If a blood clot forms and blocks the artery, a heart attack may occur.
However, HDL cholesterol actually removes LDL cholesterol, carrying it back to the liver and protecting against hardening of the arteries. HDL also helps break down cholesterol into fatty acids essential for cell membrane integrity. Keeping the correct balance of LDL to HDL is essential to heart health.
So What Really Causes Heart Disease?
The following elements are what I believe to have a HUGE impact on elevating bad cholesterol, increasing inflammation and increasing the risk of developing heart disease:
- Processed junk foods full of trans/hydrogenated fats
- High sugar consumption
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Chronic stress
- Heavy metal toxicity
Elevations in cholesterol levels may also be the result of low thyroid function and therefore it is extremely important to rule out hypothyroidism in cases of high cholesterol levels.
So remember, cholesterol is not necessarily the bad guy. Evaluating all your risk factors and maintaining a healthy ratio of “good” cholesterol to “bad” cholesterol is the best preventative strategy.
Psychosomatic Medicine 2000;62.
Epidemiology 2001 Mar;12:168-72