What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a waxy substance which is an important constituent of cell membranes and is a basic raw material essential for many functions in the body.
70-75% of the total cholesterol in the body is made by the liver, remaining 25-30% comes from the diet. Saturated animal fats like butter, egg yolks, lard, ghee, red meat, full fat dairy, cream, organ meats, and coconut oil in plant oils are all rich in cholesterol.
Yes, cholesterol is so important that most of it is made by the body itself. Making of cholesterol in the body is regulated by a negative feedback mechanism. If you eat more of it through diet the body makes less of its own. If you eat less of it from the diet the body makes more of its own.
Cholesterol in the body travels packaged in something called lipoproteins. These lipoproteins are named as HDL(high density lipoproteins) and LDL(low density lipoproteins).
LDL functions to transport cholesterol from the liver to all the body parts where it is needed for various stuff. Whereas, HDL functions to carry back the remaining used up cholesterol from the body parts back to liver where it is removed from the body.
Importance of cholesterol
Cholesterol is the basic raw material needed for many essential functions in the body. Without it the body cant function properly.
It is found in every single cell of the body, It is essential for making sex hormones like testosterone, progesterone, estrogen in both males and females, making stress hormone cortisol, essential for making vitamin D from the sun, essential for making bile for digesting and absorbing fats, Works to fight off of infections and repair damage in the tissues, It also makes up a major part of every cell membrane in the body, The brain contains the highest concentration of cholesterol, no doubt why cholesterol is essential for brain function and nervous system, lower levels of cholesterol are linked to poor cognitive function.(1,2)
Why cholesterol is harmless?
There are primarily 3 types of cholesterol which we measure during a standard blood lipid test.
1.Total cholesterol: which tells us about the total amount of cholesterol in the blood, optimal range is 125-200mg/dl
2.HDL cholesterol: Also known as good cholesterol. optimal levels are greater than or equal to 40mg/dl in men and 50mg/dl in women.
3.LDL cholesterol: Also known as bad cholesterol, optimal levels are less than or equal to 100mg/dl in men and 130mg/dl in women.
Conventional wisdom says that elevated total cholesterol and LDL levels means you’re at a risk of getting a heart attack. However, that’s an outdated concept and total cholesterol and LDL levels alone do not predict heart disease risk. Let me tell you why.
According to conventional wisdom consumption of saturated fats in the diet increases total cholesterol and LDL levels in the blood which increases the risk of getting heart attacks.
This one study concluded that there is insignificant evidence for concluding that saturated fat in the diet is associated with heart disease(3). Also, according to Framingham heart study, people who consumed the most cholesterol in the diet did not have any higher blood levels of it than those who consumed the least amount!
Low cholesterol levels are rather associated with death from cancer, heart disease and stroke!(5)
The type of cholesterol matters
Not all cholesterol in your blood is created the same. It is stated that LDL is bad and HDL is good. However, both of these lipoproteins have their types. One type is harmless whereas another one is harmful and can cause blockage in the arteries.
LDL has two types, LDL-A and LDL-B. LDL-A type is non oxidized, fluffy, buoyant that does pretty much no harm to the arteries. LDL-B on the other hand is a bad type of LDL, it is oxidized, small, dense and hard that promotes blockage in the arteries.
Similarly, All HDL is not good, HDL-2 particles are large and buoyant and are most protective whereas HDL-3 can be inflammatory and promote heart disease(4).
Eating saturated fat do raise your cholesterol but it raises the good part of LDL and HDL Also, it raises HDL more than it raises LDL. Therefore, it has cardioprotective effects.
In fact, most of the researches stating that increased total cholesterol and LDL levels cause heart diseases are flawed and based off of biased and misleading data.(6)
The 30 year follow up from the Framingham heart study showed that decreased cholesterol levels were directly associated with increased death from cardiovascular disease and increased rate of total mortality.(7)
So, knowing your LDL is pretty much useless until you know how much of it is bad.
The only time when cholesterol turns bad
So, up until now we have got a basic understanding of how cholesterol is very essential to the body and eating a diet high in saturated fats does NOT really cause blockage in the arteries and cause heart attacks.
As discussed above the type of cholesterol in the blood matters. The cholesterol levels in itself do not cause heart disease but the problem occurs when the cholesterol turns bad and the only time cholesterol turns bad is when it gets oxidized from oxidative damage. Ever seen iron rusts? that’s oxidative damage or ever seen cut apple turn brown? that’s oxidative damage.
When cholesterol is oxidized it becomes damaged and it has no where to go but to stick to the wall of arteries thereby causing the development of arterial plaque.
Plaque in the arteries is what creates blockage. The plaque is mostly created by damaged and oxidized cholesterol.
Cholesterol has this amazing ability to fight against infections and repair damage in the tissues. When the plaque is formed the wall of the artery gets damaged, during this time the body sends cholesterol to the site of injury to repair the damage.
The cholesterol is found at the site of arterial plaque. It is there to repair the damage! So, blaming cholesterol for causing the development of plaque is like blaming the firemen for fire!
So, basically cholesterol specifically LDL cholesterol is not a problem until it gets damaged by oxidative damage.
What causes oxidative damage?
1.Stress: Any form of stress, mental or physical promotes oxidative damage by creating an imbalance between oxidant-antioxidant balance.(8)
Stress also elevates cortisol and releases other stress hormones which keep your body in flight and fight state. So, constant stressful thinking or if you are under constant physiological will promote oxidative damage in the body and will be bad for your heart.
2.Smoking: Smoking is one of the greatest way to induce oxidative stress in the body. Smoking promotes oxidation of the tissues and damages arterial walls. Besides oxidation smoking cigarettes also provide your body with myriad toxic chemicals!
3.Vegetable oils: Vegetable oils are a billion dollar scam! These oils are highly inflammatory to the body and even carcinogenic! They are marketed as heart healthy and natural fats like butter, ghee, tallow, lard, egg yolks, coconut oil are demonized. But that’s not true, vegetable oils like canola, sunflower, soybean, peanut, rice bran and many more plant based oils are highly oxidizable and cause heavy damage to your heart health!
4.Sugar: Sugar consumption plays a greater role in heart disease than saturated fat consumption(9). Excess sugar intake specifically from processed and refined foods promotes insulin resistance and blood glucose imbalance. This can directly trigger something called “glycation”. Glycation occurs when there’s too much sugar floating around in the bloodstream and it sticks and gums up to the LDL which damages it.
Glycation caused due to high sugar intake is a potent factor in development of atherosclerosis.(10)
How to improve heart health?
Lowering your cholesterol has little to do with preventing heart disease. A better way to reduce the risk of getting heart disease is by reducing oxidative damage, improving the health of arteries, and supporting heart function with right nutrients.
Coenzyme Q10 is a nutrient that your body makes in order to generate energy from the food. It is one of the most vital nutrient for your heart.
It has a critical role in energy production for the heart, it’s a potent anti inflammatory agent, and also protect against oxidative damage. Patients with chronic heart failure have depleted levels of coenzyme q10. Admiration of this nutrient has been shown to improve the symptoms of heart failure and improve the health of the patients suffering from chronic heart failure.(11)
Found abundantly in red meat and organ meats, fish, poultry and some in dairy products is potent against cardio vascular disease.
It has cardio protective effects as it works to transport fatty acids into the mitochondria for the heart. It also protects against oxidative damage and inflammation.
Magnesium is a nutrient of utmost importance especially in today’s world as it is hard to get enough from the food alone.
Magnesium is very potent in stress reduction, it is very crucial for transporting calcium in right place, reduces blood pressure, relaxes arterial muscles.
It also helps in managing blood sugar and thereby reducing glycation.
Niacin improves cholesterol levels, It lowers cholesterol and specifically the bad kind of cholesterol.
If you’re diabetic or have liver problems consider your doctor before supplementing with niacin.
5.Vitamin E and Vitamin C
Both of these vitamins have a potent anti oxidant effect and protects the body against oxidative stress. They also improve endothelial function thereby, supporting health of the arteries. Vitamin E and C are naturally high in oranges, sauerkraut, kiwi, berries, lime, gooseberry, avocadoes, olives, high quality olive oil, sweet potatoes, high quality fish, raw dairy, duck fat.
6.Eat these foods
Eat high quality fish as it has omega 3 fatty acids which protect against inflammation. Eat turmeric as it contains curcumin which is highly anti inflammatory. Eat garlic, it contains a substance called allicin which has cardioprotective effects and has been shown to lower triglyceride, lower blood pressure and reduce plaque volume. Eat cherries, they are high in something called anthocyanins which are anti inflammatory. All the berries are loaded with anti inflammatory properties and have high amounts of anti oxidants. Grass fed beef and mutton have a fair amounts of omega 3s, more so they are rich in L-carnitine. Avoid conventional factory farmed beef.
7.Practice relaxation and avoid any type of processed foods
Breath deeply, practice yoga and light exercise. Stay in a relaxed environment and avoid any form of psychological conflict.