Since the 1950’s, cholesterol has been demonized by the media and medical community as a substance that produces heart attacks. Controlling cholesterol is considered a priority by many of our doctors.
But the facts present a completely different story.
In spite of the recent efforts by cholesterol truthers in the fitness community, there are still some publishers and doctors that continue to treat cholesterol as if it’s a bad thing.
We’re going to get to the bottom of the controversy and find out if or how we should control our cholesterol.
What is Cholesterol?
Controlling cholesterol is important to doctors because of a proposed correlation to high cholesterol and heart disease. However, high cholesterol is not necessarily an indicator of fitness level or diet.
Cholesterol is an organic molecule created in the cells of living animals. It is a required substance for sustaining life. Our bodies utilize cholesterol in multiple ways. It serves as a precursor for hormone production, bile acid, and vitamin D. Cholesterol is also a vital component of cell membranes.
Cholesterol is an incredibly beneficial substance. It plays a major role in:
- Tissue repair
- Hormone production
- Nervous system/Brain function & memory
- Mood regulation
- Immune function
- Anti-cancer, anti-aging
- Energy, Fat metabolism
Because controlling cholesterol production is so important for cell structure, each cell is capable of creating or absorbing it, though 80% of total cholesterol production is done via the liver. The body regulates cholesterol production so that it maintains a steady and constant supply of both LDL and HDL.
If your diet contains an adequate supply of cholesterol, the cells in your body produce less. If your diet provides very little cholesterol, your body increases its production of cholesterol.
When animal protein is consumed and digested, the cholesterol is sent to the liver where it is transformed into a non-esterified form. The liver excretes this form of cholesterol into the digestive track, where 95% of it is reabsorbed into the body.
Good Cholesterol and Bad Cholesterol
Technically speaking, there is only one type of cholesterol. Cholesterol is just cholesterol. With that said, there are tons of people that refer to HDL and LDL as good and bad types of cholesterol. This is completely false.
HDL and LDL are lipoproteins, which are biochemicals that contain cholesterol and other molecules.
Both High-Density Lipoprotein and Low-Density Lipoprotein are beneficial substances.
If we view lipoproteins as houses, then the cholesterol is the wood that makes up the house. The cells in our body disassemble the wood from the house and use it for the necessary biological functions. HDL and LDL are transport systems for cholesterol. They are both made of cholesterol and contain cholesterol, but they are not technically cholesterol.
LDL gets all of the negative attention. It's really appalling that LDL is still called “bad” cholesterol by many reputable sources. The problem with this assessment is that LDL is just as beneficial as HDL. LDL is used to repair tears in the artery, which causes plaque build-up inside the walls of the artery.
LDL is not the problem; it’s the tears in the artery that are problematic.
Controlling Cholesterol with Diet
Controlling cholesterol is simply the wrong approach. The previous paradigm and treatment methods likely caused more harm than benefits.
There is even some evidence to suggest lower levels of HDL are associated with a higher risk of heart disease.
So if controlling cholesterol is not a priority, what should we do?
It’s important to control the damage that cholesterol repairs. If we can reduce the amount of damage done to our arteries, we can limit the amount of plaque build-up.
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Control the Damage Not the Cholesterol
When we’re in stressful situations, our body produces more LDL. This is actually a beneficial response since stress is related to physical danger. However, if we’re experiencing prolonged exposure to stress, then additional LDL can be harmful. It's important to stay as stress-free as possible.
Limiting the intake of sugar is vitally important for the prevention of cardiovascular disease. Sugar causes tiny nicks in our arteries, which LDL must repair. Each repair produces more plaque in the walls of our arteries. This build-up is what causes strokes and heart attacks.
Partially Hydrogenated Oils and Trans Fats
One of the biggest problems with a lot of the oils used in modern cooking is a process called interesterification. This type of oil is often said to raise “bad” LDL cholesterol levels. While this is indirectly true, the real problem is the damage that’s done by the oil, not the cholesterol.
When food manufacturers reduce fat, they often replace it with carbohydrates from sugar, refined grains, or other starches. These substances are quickly metabolized and used by our body. The arteries are damaged, so our body maintains a high level of LDL to repair the damage.
Controlling Cholesterol with Medication
For every drop of scientific evidence claiming statins are safe and effective, there is a tidal wave of misinformation surrounding it. Statins are the “go-to” drug for doctors looking to treat a patient with high cholesterol levels.
The problem with this tactic is that nutrition is completely ignored. The damage in the arteries won’t stop occurring if the patient continues to eat Frosted Flakes for breakfast every day. Their cholesterol levels may lower from the statins, but will they be any healthier?
Side effects of Statins
Statins themselves cause adverse reactions in many patients taking them. Here are just a few of the potential side effects:
- Acute kidney failure
- Liver dysfunction
- Erectile dysfunction
- Type 2 diabetes in women
- Risk of coronary artery calcification
- Statin-Induced Myopathy
Even though numerous studies have indicated statins cause adverse reactions, doctors still frequently prescribe them. Why?
One of the reasons doctors are so quick to prescribe statins is that they know it’s easier for a patient to take a pill than to change their diet. Prescribing a statin allows them to send the patient on their way, without having to discuss their nutritional habits.
It's important to discuss these issues with your doctor before taking a statin. Ask your doctor how well they know about the cholesterol controversy and if you're at risk of any adverse reactions from the medication. It may also be recommended to talk to a nutritionist if your doctor insists on prescribing statins. Medication can save lives, but it should be a last resort.
Eat Healthy Foods to Control Cholesterol
Stay away from sugary foods. Sugar is absolutely terrible for the body in numerous ways. The damage it does to arteries is likely the cause for at least some percentage of heart disease. Sugar in the form of fruit is fine because it’s not concentrated. But sugar in the form of juice is one of the worst forms.
Stay away from trans-fats. Luckily, these fats are used less each year, but it’s still important to read labels.
Stay away from partially hydrogenated oils. Fake foods like margarine are not healthy alternatives. They can only be described as poison for humans.
Don’t overcook foods. Cooking foods at a high temperature oxidize the lipids in the food. This process of oxidization produces an LDL that can damage our arteries. The oxidized LDL goes directly to the inner lining of our arteries and encourages the accumulation of inflammatory cells. Microphages and platelets accumulate at the site and the damage compounds. If there's such a thing as bad cholesterol, it's an oxidized version of LDL.
Eat more vegetables. Vegetables contain vast amounts of nutrients that are important for many different cell functions. Vegetables are also known to lower LDL levels, which likely means they either prevent or repair the arterial damage.
Stay Active and Stress-Free
A sedentary lifestyle can exacerbate health issues. It’s important to stay active and keep the blood moving through your body. Being overweight is typically related to higher levels of LDL and arterial damage.
Losing excess fat is one of the best things you can do for controlling cholesterol levels. A regular fitness routine can also help to lower stress levels.
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