This week, I’d like to discuss a topic that, like dietary fats, is surrounded by a great deal of confusion and fear – cholesterol!
First, what is cholesterol? It makes up cell membranes and travels through blood plasma. Its major roles in the body are as follows:
- Transports fats to be used as energy
- Allows the body to absorb fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, K, E)
- Helps maintain healthy hormone levels
- Encases and protects neurons
- Builds and maintains cells
Cholesterol is essential for life and therefore, the body has its own mechanisms for maintaining healthy levels. It is estimated that the body produces 1,000 to 1,400mgs of cholesterol a day.
An important detail is that very little of the cholesterol you consume actually makes it to the blood, meaning it has little effect on cholesterol levels in the body. However, if you consume enough cholesterol to affect levels in the blood, your body will simply create less, and vice-versa.
It may also be beneficial to list the different forms of cholesterol within the body.
HDL, commonly referred to as “good cholesterol”, carries cholesterol, after its work is done, to the liver to be excreted.
LDL is where a great deal of confusion lies. LDL comes in two forms, large puffy particles or small dense particles. The large puffy LDL carry cholesterol to the areas in the body as needed. One of the major needs for LDL is to cover up lesions caused by inflammation on the walls of arteries. The purpose is to protect the artery from further damage and, if the inflammation ends, the HDL will clear out the LDL. However, if the inflammation continues, the LDL becomes oxidized and hardens, forming a buildup that can lead to clotting…a major cause of cardiovascular disease.
In the early 50’s, research was done on individuals that had suffered cardiovascular events such as heart attacks. The research showed that there was cholesterol present in the inflamed areas of the body so immediately, medical organizations started “educating” the public about the dangers of cholesterol.
Interestingly, the lead researcher realized that cholesterol was merely a symptom, and not a cause of cardiovascular problems, and retracted his findings in 1959. However, the pharmaceutical companies and food industry, in response to the medical community, had already invested too much to reverse their campaign against cholesterol.
In the coming weeks I’ll write a post discussing how to manipulate cholesterol levels as well as how to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease. However, I wanted to simply touch upon the importance of cholesterol and dispel any fears regarding its consumption.
My anecdotal experience: I eat 4-6 eggs and almost a pound of beef a day…about 2000mg of cholesterol total. I have eaten this way for over two years now, five days a week, and my HDL has continued to rise as my triglycerides (carried by small, dense LDL particles) and inflammation markers have stayed unbelievably low.
I will continue to track all markers of health and, like everything, will adjust accordingly as necessary. But, at this time, I have no plan of avoiding foods I enjoy due to cholesterol content.
See you all again soon!