Cholesterol is a naturally occurring substance found in your body. It has some dietary significance, as it helps the body digest fats. Cholesterol also plays a role in maintaining the integrity of the cell membrane. In order to perform its functions it must be able to transport itself to other areas of the body. In order for it to be mobile it attaches to molecules called “lipoprotein”. There are three differing types of Cholesterol; Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL), Very Low-Density Lipoprotein (VLDL), and High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL). This translates to how cholesterol affects and travels through your cardiovascular system via your arteries.
LDL vs. HDL
Both of these types have the ability to transport cholesterol. However, LDL is more inclined to become stuck in the transportation process, and can cause blockages in your arteries. On the other hand, HDL is structured more towards picking up loose cholesterol that is floating around in your blood and takes it to the liver for digestion. This is why we are encouraged to strive for higher levels of HDL and lower levels of LDL.
While both types of cholesterol serve their purpose, having too much of the LDL has been shown to increase the risk of heart disease. If your cholesterol is over 200, then you need to focus on lowering your total cholesterol. The naturopathic ideal is below 170 with the good cholesterol “HDL” over 50. Ideally your ratio of total cholesterol divided by HDL “good cholesterol” is well below 4.0, the lower the better.
Total cholesterol is a risk factor for heart disease, yet when there is excess cholesterol and insufficient antioxidants then the total cholesterol levels are more likely to undergo free radical damage leading to lipid peroxidation, “cholesterol degradation” that causes it to become more likely to stick and plug up arteries and cause damage within the body. This can add to the risk for clotting or a blockage in your arteries or heart.
There are three major ways that cholesterol becomes an issue for the average person, after family genetics has been factored into the equation:
1. Oral consumption of cholesterol and partially hydrogenated fats/trans fats are too high.
2. Liver production is up-regulated for any number of reasons.
3. Bowel elimination is insufficient, hence allowing re-absorption of cholesterol and other materials.
Animal products are the only naturally occurring sources of cholesterol. Therefore, the more animal meat, dairy and eggs that you consume, the higher your cholesterol burden. The more you continue to eat a high fat diet, the more you tell your body that it doesn’t need to collect and process the cholesterol that is roaming around in your blood. If the ‘bad’ cholesterol is left to rest against and attach to the blood vessel walls the more damage and risk for heart disease.
However it is not that simple, since a person that eats very little meat can also have high cholesterol. This can be attributed to eating too much processed carbohydrates and fried foods for instance. The body sees processed and refined carbohydrates (sugars) and any kind of fried food as a toxin. The chemical reaction your body undergoes to process these foods can end up in your fatty tissue. The fat-soluble toxins can increase your risk of heart disease because they are susceptible to free radical damage. The more exposure free radicals have with your “bad” cholesterol, the more risk of heart disease.
Regardless of how much fat you consume, the intake of sufficient fiber is a must. Fiber acts as a natural sponge and can help prevent excess re-absorption of cholesterol. Thus increasing your fresh vegetables, fruits, legumes (specifically split peas and lentils), and the use of a multi-grain bread and cereal can really help. It is highly recommended to increase your intake of ‘ground’ flaxseed into your diet, since it offers omega-3 oils. Additionally, the daily use of fish oil that is mercury and PCB free and tested is a good place to start.
From an overall health promoting angle it is advisable to endeavor to have 2-3 bowel movements per day to eliminated waste, toxins and cholesterol from your system. For everyday that goes by without having a bowel movement, the toxins are reabsorbed.
Exercising can also help your cholesterol levels and ratio. Research has shown that HDL (the good cholesterol) can be increased with routine exercise. While exercising can help your ‘good’ cholesterol it also helps lower stress levels. Also, decreasing ones stress can help with your cholesterol levels.
If you are taking a statin drug to lower your cholesterol, there is a growing body of research suggesting that the depletion of Co-Q10 can become significant especially at higher dosages. Thus, supplementing with Co-Q10 when on statin drugs is an absolute. Plus Co-Q10 is a great antioxidant, immune supportive and heart essential nutrient.
It has also been recommended by leading medical experts that everyone can benefit from taking a high-quality and complete daily multi-vitamin. Few people actually eat a sufficiently health and broad diet to ensure the adequate intake of nutrients for all the biochemical processes necessary to not just sustain the human body but to help it truly thrive.
Having high cholesterol is an unhealthy side effect of the combination of what you put in our body and your genetic predisposition. ‘Good’ cholesterol, HDL, can help your body process the ‘bad’ cholesterol, VLDL and LDL. The ‘bad’ cholesterol can accumulate from high fat or high carbohydrate foods. When these foods are eaten, the body can process them, break the fats down and excreted from the digestive system. When the fat processing breaks down and the body is unable to eliminate this build-up, you begin to stock pile cholesterol. This can lead to very serious cardiovascular conditions. You should always maintain a healthy diet, high in fiber, and exercise regularly to keep your digestive system functioning properly. While healthy foods can increase your antioxidant consumption, taking a combination antioxidant supplement can be even better.
- May 2013