Cholesterol: Is it Really Bad?

Cholesterol is an essential component of cell membranes, brain and nerve cells, and bile, which helps the body absorb fats and fat-soluble vitamins. The body uses it to make vitamin D and various hormones, such as estrogen, testosterone and cortisol. The body can produce all the cholesterol that it needs, but it also obtains cholesterol from food. (source: Merck Manual)

Vital Roles

  • Along with saturated fats, cholesterol in the cell membrane gives our cells necessary stiffness and stability. When the diet contains an excess of polyunsaturated fatty acids, these replace saturated fatty acids in the cell membrane, so that the cell walls actually become flabby. When this happens, cholesterol from the blood is “driven” into the tissues to give them structural integrity. This is why serum cholesterol levels may go down temporarily when we replace saturated fats with polyunsaturated oils in the diet.46
  • Cholesterol acts as a precursor to vital corticosteroids, hormones that help us deal with stress and protect the body against heart disease and cancer; and to the sex hormones like androgen, testosterone, estrogen and progesterone.
  • Cholesterol is a precursor to vitamin D, a very important fat-soluble vitamin needed for healthy bones and nervous system, proper growth, mineral metabolism, muscle tone, insulin production, reproduction and immune system function.
  • Cholesterol makes bile salts. Bile is vital for digestion and assimilation of fats in the diet.
  • Recent research shows that cholesterol acts as an antioxidant.47 This is the likely explanation for the fact that it’s levels go up with age. As an antioxidant, cholesterol protects us against free radical damage that leads to heart disease and cancer.
  • Cholesterol is needed for proper function of serotonin receptors in the brain.48 Serotonin is the body’s natural “feel-good” chemical. Low cholesterol levels have been linked to aggressive and violent behavior, depression and suicidal tendencies.
  • Mother’s milk is especially rich in cholesterol and contains a special enzyme that helps the baby utilize this nutrient. Babies and children need cholesterol-rich foods throughout their growing years to ensure proper development of the brain and nervous system.
  • Dietary cholesterol plays an important role in maintaining the health of the intestinal wall.49 It is for this reason low-cholesterol vegetarian diets can lead to leaky gut syndrome and other intestinal disorders.

Source: The Skinny on Fats; Mary G. Enig, PhD and Sally Fallon; Wise Traditions January 2000

Levels

Consider cholesterol levels in light of other values, such as fasting glucose, liver enzymes, blood pressure and C-reactive protein (inflammation marker). Ideally, we want to see the following values:

HDL in men: 45 mg/dL or higher
HDL in women: 50 mg/dL or higher
Triglycerides: 70-133 mg/dL
VLDL: 4-50 mg/dL (the lower the better)
Glucose: 78-88 mg/dL
Hemoglobin A1c: 4-5.8 %
Homocysteine: 5-8 µmol/L
AST: 20-30 IU/L
ALT: 20-30 IU/L
C-Reactive Protein: <0.55 mg/L in men and < 1.5 mg/L in women
LDL: less than three times the HDL value. Elevated LDL is the body’s response to stress; sending out cholesterol to glands such as the adrenals, where stress-handling hormones are produced. Beware of doctors prescribing statins, as statins are known to cause cancer, especially of the biliary tract. Statins are also implicated in hormone disruption. Small LDL is the concern in heart disease, not large LDL.

The most commonly seen imbalance in cholesterol values is elevated LDL or triglycerides, which is typically due to overconsumption of carbohydrates and vegetable oils (not saturated fats) in the diet, excess stress and lack of exercise. A carbohydrate-based diet often leads to adrenal fatigue and insulin resistance, which increases one’s risk of developing diabetes, as well as heart disease.

To lower one’s stress level requires lifestyle changes. Dietary changes should include the elimination of vegetable oils with the exception of traditional oils such as unheated organic olive oil, coconut oil and small amounts of unheated flax and sesame seed oil. Plant oils become toxic due to the refinement process and the fact that plant oil oxidized rapidly. Animal fats from pastured animals and wild fish are the keys to correcting these imbalances. So, include them on a daily basis. Returning to a diet that is more reminiscent of our hunter-gatherer ancestors is the key to balancing both cholesterol metabolism and blood sugar levels.

Those with fasting glucose levels above 89, should limit carbohydrate intake to 100 grams daily. Eliminate all refined carbohydrates, including breads, bagels, muffins and pasta. Limit starchy carbohydrates, such as potatoes, yams and sweet potatoes, and only eat with healthy fats such as butter, crème fraiche or cultured sour cream.

Keep in mind that un-oxidized cholesterol is the key to healthy stress handling and sex hormones. It is cholesterol that forms the key building block to healthy brain cells. Avoid low-fat products and consume foods as close to how nature provides them.

High carbohydrates (especially wheat)=high glucose+high insulin+
increased visceral fat=increased VLDL+increased triglycerides

 The root cause always points back to
refined carbohydrates, not saturated fats.

Therapeutic Support to Consider (under the guidance of a qualified health care practitioner)

  • Weston A. Price Diet (or the Page Diet)
  • Gluten-free diet is advisable when elevated blood sugar exists alongside elevated trigyclerides
  • Liver and gallbladder support
  • Thyroid assessment

Suggested Reading


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