Cholesterol: What’s good and bad about it?

by : Dr. T.G. Day, MD

Cholesterol is quite important to the human body, and usually people tend to think about it more with aging.  Hypercholesterolemia or high cholesterol is one of the major risk factors for heart disease.  I wrote about the risk and contributing factors for heart disease in a previous blog post. In this blog post, I will discuss the importance of cholesterol for the human body, the negative affects on the body, and the dietary impacts on total cholesterol.

What does cholesterol have to do with you?

Cholesterol has everything to do with every human being.  It is the compound that helps make up the structure of human cells.  It is also needed to make very important steroid hormones, such as, estradiol, testosterone, and cortisol, bile acid, and vitamin D. Cholesterol is made in the body through a very intricate biochemical process. We can also consume cholesterol through our diet.  Cholesterol is only found in animal and animal products.  It is not found in plants.  Therefore, if we eat animals or animal products, such as, chicken, beef, turkey, eggs, or milk, we consume additional cholesterol into our bodies.

If I eat only plants, will I still consume cholesterol?

Plants or vegetables don’t contain cholesterol.  They instead have a compound called phytosterol.  When you eat plants/vegetables, phytosterols are consumed.  Phytosterols compete with the absorption of cholesterol in the Gastrointestinal tract, thereby, lowering the absorption of cholesterol that was consumed by animal products.  So yes, eating more plants/vegetables does lower the amount of cholesterol that your body takes in.

How does cholesterol become elevated?

There are several ways in which cholesterol can become elevated.  There are hereditary conditions that can cause high cholesterol.  Usually these are diagnosed earlier in life by your physician.  If you don’t have a hereditary condition that causes high cholesterol, then the consumption of too much cholesterol can lead to high cholesterol.  A diet that contains a large amount of animals and animal products can increase one’s risk of developing high cholesterol. There could be other causes, so consult with your physician to identify your specific cause.

What is good and bad cholesterol?

Cholesterol is carried in the body by special transporters called lipoproteins.  These lipoproteins are chylomicrons, vLDL, LDL, and HDL.  The major transporter is LDL. Briefly, HDL is the “good” component of cholesterol because, it removes fat from the artery walls, thereby preventing atherosclerosis, which is plaque accumulation in the blood vessel walls that can cause Heart Disease.

However, LDL is considered to be the “bad” component of cholesterol.  It carries cholesterol through the body, but can become oxidized, and eaten by macrophages (blood cells to get rid of it), but in the process, this becomes large and foam cells are formed, which can get trapped inside of blood vessel walls and cause atherosclerosis, plaque formation.  Again, atherosclerosis can lead to Heart Disease.

What’s the take home message?

Now, the science behind cholesterol, LDL, HDL, atherosclerosis is very intricate and can be somewhat overwhelming.  However, knowing how it affects your overall healthis what is most important.  Yes, our body needs cholesterol to make the important hormones to function normally.  But understanding that if cholesterol is too high in our body, it can lead to serious problems, such as heart disease. As I discussed in a previous blog post, “5 Ways to have a Healthy Heart”, Heart Disease in the #1 cause of death in men and women in the U.S., and High cholesterol is a major risk factor for Heart Disease. The foods that we eat that have cholesterol in them are animals or animal products.  With this knowledge, you can choose your nutrition to help prevent elevated cholesterol by selecting more plant based foods. If you haven’t had your cholesterol level checked, I would recommend you consulting with your physician.  If you would like more information on nutritional ways to prevent high cholesterol, contact me for a free health coaching consultation.

Check out this Amazon Affiliate link for Home Cholesterol Monitoring Kits

References:

“LDL and HDL, Bad and Good Cholesterol.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC.

Cholesterol at the US National Library of Medicine Medical Subject Headings.

2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines: Answers to Your Questions.  Choose My Plate.gov, US Dept of Agric. Jan. 2016.

Author: Dr. T.G. Day, MD is the CEO and Founder of Flourish Health Coaching, LLC.  She is helping others achieve excellent health through wholistic health coaching.  If you are in pursuit of excellent health, and becoming the healthiest and fittest version of yourself, contact Dr. T.G. Day, MD for a free health coaching consultation.

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