Cholesterol is a waxy fat-like substance which is largely made in the liver and is found in every one of our cells.
We need cholesterol:
- to make cell membranes
- to activate vitamin D3 from the sun
- to produce sex hormones
- to help produce bile acids for fat digestion.
We also need cholesterol for neurological function. We know that cholesterol directly affects neurotransmitters in the brain which are responsible for our learning and memory.
A few facts about cholesterol
Our cholesterol is made up of high density lipoproteins (HDLs), low density lipoproteins (LDLs), the molecules that transport cholesterol around our body, and triglycerides.
- HDLs are commonly referred to as ‘good cholesterol’, responsible for removing excess cholesterol from our blood where it is then broken down by the liver.
- LDLs are responsible for carrying cholesterol around the body and delivering it to our organs and tissues. These LDLs have been labelled ‘bad cholesterol’ because excess cholesterol particles in our blood form plaque that can lodge in our arteries, narrowing vessel walls and increasing the risk of heart disease.
- Triglycerides are stored inside our fat cells and are released into blood circulation between meals or when blood glucose and glycogen stores in our muscles and liver have been exhausted. Triglycerides are likely to be elevated with a diet high in refined sugars, trans- and saturated fats, and alcohol.
What is high blood cholesterol?
Total cholesterol is generally determined by a blood test called a lipid profile. The marker for high total cholesterol in Australia is above 6.2 mmol/L, while 5.2–6.2 mmol/L is borderline high. This is just one of the factors contributing to heart disease. Other risk factors include high blood pressure, smoking, obesity and type 2 diabetes. Our genetic predisposition does play a part in our cholesterol levels, however, for many of us, cholesterol levels can be managed through a healthy diet and exercise.
It is important to note that your total cholesterol level is not always the perfect indicator for risk of heart disease. According to Dr Mercola, a clearer picture can be obtained by working out these two ratios:
- HDL/Cholesterol ratio
- Triglyceride/HDL ratio
If you divide your HDL level by your cholesterol, the ratio should be preferably above 24 percent. Likewise, divide your triglycerides by your HDL level and the ratio should be below 2. These HDL ratios are very powerful indicators of heart disease risk and should be added to the overall heart health assessment of a patient.(1)
The good fats
Contrary to past ‘low fat’ dietary advice in the management of high cholesterol, it is the types of fats that are important. Low fat products often have substitute carbohydrates in the form of sugars and starches which add to the overall hidden sugar count. A summary of evidence by The National Heart Foundation of Australia in 2009 found no significant links between a reduced or modified fat diet and cardiovascular events. (2)
So do include ‘good fats’ into your diet, these are unsaturated fats such as nuts, seeds, olive oils and fish. Avoid trans-fats such as hydrogenated oils found in processed foods, and moderate your saturated fats.
Is sugar the villain?
Monitoring sugars is equally important. Sugary drinks, refined foods and alcohol are all culprits that drive up triglycerides. When we eat more than we burn, our energy intake will be higher than our energy output. Undissolved triglycerides in our blood build up plaque and harden our arteries, causing atherosclerosis, a major risk factor for heart attacks and cardiovascular disease.
Cholesterol lowering drugs
Why is it that cholesterol lowering statins are one of the largest selling medications world-wide? It is known that statins do work on people with high risk pre-existing heart disease (3), but taking into account the millions of people taking statins, there is reason to believe that many are taking them with little or no benefit. With the wide-spread use of statins comes possible known side-effects including deterioration in cognitive function, muscle pain and sexual dysfunction. One would have to question the efficacy of statins for many instead of a Mediterranean based diet rich in good fats such as olive oils and nuts, fruit and vegetables, wholegrains, pulses and fresh foods.
If you are in a high risk category for heart disease then you may have a strong case for statin therapy. However, for many others a world of whole foods, exercise and support supplements may give you the same results without the harmful side-effects of statins. Statin drugs can be effective in lowering cholesterol and once your cholesterol is within a normal range, you could be led to believe that you are healthier and your risk factors of heart disease have been lowered. There are, however, studies that suggest that statins may have far reaching physiological effects in the body (4), such as:
- inhibit the production of Vitamin K2 in the body — Vitamin K2 prevents calcification in our arteries
- impair mitochondria, that is, the energy centres of our cells
- deplete Co-enzyme Q10 in the body — CoQ10 is responsible for the cell energy, is an antioxidant and guards the body against harmful free radicals.
All of our posts reflect our philosophy at A Healthy View www.ahealthyview.com, a whole real food perspective on food and life. Extremes do not work, but clean, whole, tasty and easy food choices can create a lifetime of good habits that lead to a lean, happy, and healthy person. Contact us on our website for our next Low Sugar Lifestyle program or a nutritional consult.
Article by Sara Millikin
- Dr Mercola. The cholesterol myth that is harming your health. 10 August, 2010. http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2010/08/10/making-sense-of-your-cholesterol-numbers.aspx
- Heart Foundation. Summary of evidence Dietary fats and dietary cholesterol for cardiovascular health. © 2009 National Heart Foundation of Australia. heartfoundation.org.au
- Carey J. Bloomberg BusinessWeek . Do Cholesterol Drugs Do Any Good? January 17, 2008.
- Deichmann R, Lavie C, Andrews S. Coenzyme Q10 and Statin-Induced Mitochondrial Dysfunction.The Ochsner Journal. 2010;10(1):16-21.
Iowa State University. (2009, February 26). Cholesterol-reducing Drugs May Lessen Brain Function, Says Researcher. Science Daily. Retrieved March 13, 2016 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/02/090223221430.htm.