Yes…cholesterol. That scary word that means your arteries are hardening and it’s going to put you at a risk of cardiovascular disease! What if I told you though, that cholesterol is an important lipoprotein in your body? First – let’s break down that word ‘lipoprotein’; it’s what it sounds like! It’s part protein and part lipid. Cool, right? So, if cholesterol is so scary, then how is it important to us?
The Importance of Cholesterol
Cholesterol is the basis of hormone synthesis – it is the backbone of all your sex hormones. That’s right, without cholesterol your body cannot produce testosterone, estrogen, estriol, estradiol, progesterone and vitamin D! That’s right…vitamin D is a hormone! Cholesterol is also important in the synthesis of bile to help digest meals. Cholesterol is roughly 3% of your body weight, however 20-25% of your brain is made up of cholesterol! Why is cholesterol in the brain? Without cholesterol the brain cannot maintain its membranes, it cannot form the synapses responsible for thoughts and memories to be created, it cannot maintain what is known as the myelin sheath over nerves which is necessary for speeding up the electrical impulses in nerves. Without the myelin sheath you find neurodegenerative diseases start to form such as multiple sclerosis. Cholesterol is what helps maintain the structure of cells throughout the rest of the body.
Types of Cholesterol
Most of the time cholesterol is labeled in two ways – bad and good cholesterol. Is this true? Can cholesterol be good or bad? I don’t like to describe cholesterol as good or bad, but simply one type is more cardioprotective over the other. HDL cholesterol is more cardioprotective, while LDL is the cholesterol that in high amounts can put an individual at risk of cardiovascular disease – but that doesn’t mean that having LDL means you are destined to have cardiovascular disease, but merely there is a balance of the HDL vs LDL that is important – you want higher HDL to LDL, but having LDL is important as it carries cholesterol to the cells that need it – think of LDL as the cholesterol taxi! It gets cholesterol from the liver to the cells that need more cholesterol, but when you get too MUCH LDL that is when you see more “taxi roadblocks” aka hardening of the arteries.
Where Does Cholesterol Come From?
We absorb cholesterol into our blood system through the food we eat such as meat, shellfish, eggs, organ meat and dairy products. Your liver will synthesize all the cholesterol your body needs from dietary fats, sugar and protein, and if you eat a diet high in saturated and trans-fats your body will create extra cholesterol – specifically LDL which puts individuals at a higher risk of cardiovascular disease. LDL isn’t the only one to watch – you must also look at triglyceride levels which mainly comes from sugar and alcohol intake. This combined with high LDL levels can put you at risk for cardiovascular disease.
Foods to Decrease Cholesterol Intake
Oatmeal is a major food that helps to decrease the uptake of dietary cholesterol (specifically LDL) – it is because the amount of fiber in the oats reduces the amount of LDL that is absorbed through your intestines into your bloodstream. Other forms of dietary fiber will be beans, lentils, broccoli, berries, avocados, fresh popped popcorn, apples, and nuts.
Do I Have High Cholesterol?
The best way to make sure you are keeping your cholesterol in check is to visit your Naturopathic Medical Doctor – they will run bloodwork to see what your blood has to say about your health including your cholesterol; from there Naturopathic Medical Doctors work with you to provide dietary and nutrition changes/information to help you understand where the excess cholesterol is coming from – if you have any – and how to stay in control of your cholesterol. Visit your Naturopathic Medical Doctor today to determine the status of your cholesterol levels!