The truth about Cholesterol
You just visited your Doctor and he/she shows your lipid profile report and says it doesn’t look good. You’re immediately push back and see a list of numbers and strange terms on the report like cholesterol, LDL, HDL, triglycerides and lipid profile. Well let’s take a moment to understand these terms.
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is also a lipid (fat) that is produced in the liver. It is vital for proper functioning of the body. Every cell plasma membrane (outer layer) has cholesterol.
If our own body produces it, why is cholesterol harmful or is it?
Cholesterol in the blood is controlled in two places:
- Liver: where Cholesterol is produced
- Intestines: absorb cholesterol, which comes from food and from bile.
Before we can understand why cholesterols not the bad guy made out to be, we need to understand the functions of cholesterol.
- It builds and maintains cell membranes (outer layer), it prevents crystallization of hydrocarbons in the cell membrane
- It is essential for cell membrane permeability
- It is involved in the production of sex hormones
- It is essential for the production of hormones released by the adrenal glands
- It aids in the production of bile (very important component for digestion)
- It converts sunlight to vitamin D.
- It is important for the metabolism of fat soluble vitamins, including vitamins A, D, E, and K
- It insulates nerve fibers
So why is cholesterol bad. Well whenever our arterial walls become torn (due to high insulin levels, high blood pressure, free radical damage) the repair process begins. First lays down fibrin net then mineral get trapped in the fibrin net. Further substance of opposite charges such as fats and calcium get caught in this fibrin net. Cholesterol (slipper/waxy substance) coats the surface to smooth the area to prevent blood cell damage. So cholesterol is a protective substance, however due to being the last substance laid down in the arterial wall, it’s labeled as the bad guy.
What do the terms LDL, HDL and VLDL that figure in the lipid profile reports mean?
As cholesterol is a fat that is insoluble in blood, it needs something to carry it or transport it in our body. LDL, HDL, VLDL are small molecules called lipoproteins that help with transportation.
What is ‘good’ and ‘bad’ cholesterol?
HDL (High Density Lipoprotein) is good cholesterol because they help get rid of excess cholesterol by transporting them from the blood vessels to the liver for excretion.
LDL (Low Density Lipoprotein) is bad cholesterols because they deposit more cholesterol in the blood by transporting it from the liver, and may cause more plaque build-up as explained above.
What are triglycerides?
The fat in the food you eat is mostly in the form of triglycerides. Triglycerides are the main type of fat transported by your body. Triglycerides are a normal component of your bloodstream. After you eat, your body digests the fats in your food and repackages the fat as triglycerides, which are released into your bloodstream. The blood carries the triglycerides throughout your body to give you energy or to be stored as fat. Your liver also produces triglycerides and changes some into cholesterol. Your liver can change any source of excess calories into triglycerides.
How do I know I have excess cholesterol and lipoproteins?
The normal ranges are as given below:
|Cholesterol||<200 mg/dl||200-239 mg/dl||240 mg/dl|
|Triglycerides||<150 mg/dl||150-199 mg/dl||200-499 mg/dl|
|HDL Cholesterol||60 mg/dl||35-45 mg/dl||<35 mg/dl|
|LDL Cholesterol||60-130 mg/dl||130-159 mg/dl||160-189 mg/dl|
Things that raise blood cholesterol level and triglyceride levels
- Dietary sugars, caffeine and alcohol
- Candy, pastries, cookies, soda pop, coffee, tea, chocolate, colas
Things that help to lower the level of cholesterol and triglycerides
- Elimination of concentrated sugars
- High fiber diet
- Exercise 30min 3x per week
Cholesterol is a vital body substance
- without it you cannot grow
- you cannot digest your food
- you cannot mature
- may also be a potent antioxidant and scavenges and protects against free radicals.
- May be our natural defense against those things that cause arterial damage
Other defense are Vitamin: A, C, E, B1, B6, beta carotene, niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), chromium, manganese, selenium and zinc. High cholesterol is not a disease but due to improper diet and lack of exercise. If cholesterol does not return to normal level after eliminating the above, then consider low thyroid function
What causes high cholesterol?
- Nutrition – although some foods contain cholesterol, such as eggs, kidneys, eggs and some seafoods, dietary cholesterol does not have much of an impact in human blood cholesterol levels. However, saturated fats do! Some example of foods high in saturated fats include red meat, some pies, sausages, hard cheese, lard, pastry, cakes, most biscuits, and cream.
- Sedentary lifestyle – people who do not exercise and spend most of their time sitting/lying down have significantly higher levels of LDL and lower levels of HDL.
- Bodyweight – people who are overweight/obese are much more likely to have higher LDL levels and lower HDL levels, compared to people who are of normal weight.
- Smoking – this can have quite a considerable effect on LDL levels due to free radical damage caused by smoking.
- Alcohol – people who consume too much alcohol regularly, generally have much higher levels of LDL and much lower levels of HDL, compared to people who abstain or those who drink in moderation.
What foods can help me control my cholesterol levels and maintain heart health?
- Olive oil: Olive oil contains a mix of various anti-oxidants, which lower your bad cholesterol (LDL). Add it as a dressing to your salads. For cooking use Coconut Oil or Ghee as they can resist oxidation at high cooking temperature.
- Nuts: Walnuts and almonds are rich in omega-3 fatty acids and PUFA (polyunsaturated fatty acids), which help reduce LDL cholesterol and keep the blood vessels healthy. A handful of these raw nuts (unsalted, unfried) should help.
- Oats: Being high in soluble fiber, oats reduce the absorption of cholesterol (Total & LDL) in your blood.
- Fish: High in omega 3 fatty acids, it helps increase the levels of the good (HDL) cholesterol. It is recommended that you have at least two servings of Salmon, herring or mackerel per week. If you do not eat fish or do not have access to good fish, add ground flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, and sesame seeds to your diet. Omega 3 fatty acid supplements are also suggested.
- Garlic: Allicin in garlic help lowering cholesterol levels.