Cholesterol may be the most misunderstood molecule in modern medicine today. Many people, and even some physicians, are mistaken in their perception of cholesterol by associating a high level of it with poor diet, heart disease, clogged arteries, and death.
That message is one created and controlled by pHARMa.
We are here to tell you cholesterol is not the enemy! Cholesterol is so vital that the human race would cease to exist without it. In fact, all animals contain cholesterol, which is vital to breast milk and chicken embryos (eggs!).
Cholesterol is an integral part of all the cells in the body. It is the backbone of hormones, including estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, and cortisol. It keeps the brain healthy, is necessary for digestion, and is a powerful antioxidant.
Oh, cholesterol gets converted to vitamin D by sunshine exposure.
So now you may be thinking, if cholesterol is so great, I should keep my cholesterol levels high.
It’s not quite that simple.
Cholesterol is a lipid, and for it to travel through the bloodstream, it must be packaged in a lipoprotein to deliver it to designated destinations throughout the body.
Lipoproteins are characterized by their size and contents and are divided into five categories:
- High-density lipoproteins (HDL)
- Low-density lipoproteins (LDL)
- Very-low-density lipoproteins (VLDL)
- Intermediate-density lipoproteins (IDL)
High HDL levels are generally good because HDL cleans up excess cholesterol and plaque build-up in the arteries and takes them back to the liver to cleanse them from the body.
Even though it is often labeled the “bad” cholesterol, LDL isn’t always bad. LDL’s job is to package cholesterol and other needed products and deliver them to cells around the body. LDL is well-intentioned. Unfortunately, sometimes its good deeds can cause damage since it can end up stuck in the lining of arteries. LDL tries to mend damaged arteries, but as it goes to the site of a problem, the immune cells stick to it, and before long, this lipoprotein full of cholesterol is stuck and calcifies inside the artery.
The size of LDL particles determines whether they will be cardioprotective or damaging. Generally, small, dense LDL particles are the ones causing damage to blood vessels.
To go one step further, lipoprotein(a), or Lp(a), is an LDL particle subtype and a good predictor of overall cardiovascular health. Lp(a), however, is unlike other lipoproteins because the amount you have in your body is unrelated to diet or lifestyle. Instead, your level of Lp(a) is determined by the genes passed on to you by your parents at birth.
Small amounts of Lp(a) are normal, but high levels increase your risk for cardiovascular disease. It’s important to know your Lp(a) numbers. You can read more HERE.
While testing for cholesterol has traditionally been limited to LDL, HDL, triglycerides, and total cholesterol, more specialized testing can look more into the type of lipoprotein and what is packaged inside.
Symptoms of high cholesterol
Even though dietary and lifestyle factors can cause high cholesterol, symptoms can be elusive. You can have significantly elevated lipid levels and still feel well. Unfortunately, just like cardiovascular disease is the “silent killer” because it has few symptoms until it’s too late, high cholesterol often isn’t apparent until appropriate testing reveals the real numbers. It’s crucial to find out your numbers before it’s too late.
Causes of high cholesterol
Understanding that dietary fat does not raise cholesterol levels or heart disease is crucial. Instead, the real cause of abnormal lipid levels and an increase in the small, dense, dangerous LDL particles traveling in the bloodstream is poor diet, lack of physical activity, and an overall toxic lifestyle.
· The pro-inflammatory diet
Eating processed foods high in fructose and high-fructose corn syrup is linked to poor metabolic health, including obesity, insulin resistance, fatty liver, cancer, and chronic kidney disease. Fructose also increases inflammation within the lining of blood vessels, where the small, dense LDL cholesterol aggregates for the best of intentions to protect—unfortunately, repeated damage and aggregation cause plaque buildup within the endothelial wall.
· Vegetable and seed oils
Edible oils extracted from plants are generally non-organic and genetically modified. These oils are also extracted using a chemical solvent and bathed in multiple other chemicals to preserve the color.
Vegetable oils also have an excessive amount of omega-6 fatty acids. These fatty acids are good in moderation and can be found in avocados or eggs. Still, the high amount in vegetable oils promotes inflammation and keeps healthy omega-3 fatty acids from doing their job.
Excessive omega-6 fatty acids also pose a problem since they are not fully saturated and react to oxygen in the air by deteriorating. These oxidized polyunsaturated fats can begin changing the structure within cell membranes.
· Refined carbohydrates
There are plenty of good carbohydrates, including grasses, roots, and fruits. Unfortunately, refined carbohydrates are far more easily accessible in our diet today. Most have little to no fiber, which will raise blood sugar quickly and increase inflammatory gut bacteria.
· Artificial trans-fatty acids
The word artificial should be the first warning sign since trans-fatty acids are manufactured and unnatural. They are created by adding hydrogen to vegetable oils, which increases their shelf-life. They raise LDL cholesterol, lower HDL cholesterol, and are pro-inflammatory.
· Sedentary lifestyle
Computers have made it so we never have to leave the house. We can conduct business, get entertainment, and communicate without getting out of bed! Hopefully, if you’re reading this, you are not one of the people who spend most of your time sitting in front of the computer because you risk early death.
Sitting for long periods slows blood flow and the build-up of fatty acids in arteries. It also makes it harder to burn fat and increases fat storage. Lack of physical activity also leads to insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, weak bones, weight gain, and stress. These factors contribute to inflammation, increased blood vessel damage, and increased LDL cholesterol accumulation at the injury site, eventually leading to heart disease.
· Chronic stress
It doesn’t matter whether stress is physical or emotional; experiencing it day after day significantly affects all of your body systems. Stress hormones activate the release of triglycerides and free fatty acids and lead to increased LDL levels.
You’re also more likely to make poor diet and lifestyle choices with chronic stress that will also negatively impact your lipid levels.
· Lack of sunshine
Doctors should prescribe sunshine to lower cholesterol rather than a statin. As your skin absorbs the sun’s rays, it also penetrates your bloodstream and uses its energy to convert circulating cholesterol into vitamin D.
Converting cholesterol to vitamin D lowers circulating LDL. It also lowers blood pressure, boosts immunity, and strengthens your bones. Get outside and reap the benefits of the warm sun on your skin!
· Inadequate sleep
You won’t get the maximum results from regular exercise, preferably outside in the sun, and a healthy diet if you don’t give your body enough time to rest and repair with adequate sleep.
Sleeping less than six hours a night can lead to abnormal lipid levels, high blood pressure, inflammation, and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. A regular sleep routine will benefit your heart and your mind.
If you think you may be at risk because of a poor diet or other unhealthy habits, the good news is that simple lifestyle changes can have an enormously positive effect on abnormal cholesterol levels and overall health.
Modifying your diet to include organic saturated fats, regular physical activity, reduced alcohol intake, improved gut health, less stress, better sleep, and ample sunshine are all productive steps to get you back on track to healthy living.
If doctors and the pharmaceutical industry have misled you into believing cholesterol is the enemy, you are not alone. Millions of others worldwide have been prescribed a statin, thinking that LDL cholesterol needs to be purged from the body to prevent cardiovascular disease.
Maybe you thought that since taking a statin, you can eat whatever you want and never worry about cholesterol, heart disease, or poor metabolic health. Hopefully, we’ve shed some light and helped you understand that the only way to a healthy life is not a pill but a clean diet and lifestyle modifications.
If you’re just starting on this journey, you must know everyone here at the Natural Heart Doctor is here to guide you through this life-changing transition. We offer a complimentary 20-minute health consultation with an experienced NHD health coach to be your expert guide to a healthier heart and happier, healthier you.
NHD also offers advanced lipid testing through an Advanced Cardiac Panel to provide a baseline of your lipid levels and help guide your treatment over the coming months.
You’ve taken the first step by seeking in-depth, accurate information about cholesterol and your heart. We are here to walk you through the rest of your heart-healthy journey.