I know this is a rather political topic, but I have never been one to shy away from pissing off the big peeps (remember Coke?). This may be hard to understand the first time you read it, as the idea that cholesterol is the villain waiting to strike us down with heart disease is ingrained in the Statin Drug pushing world in which we live. I might as well just put it right on out there: cholesterol is not bad.
When has the body ever produced something arbitrarily without any reason? Believe it or not, the answer is never. We may be born with a predisposition to higher cholesterol or perhaps the rare condition called cholesteremia where the body over produces it. For most of us however, cholesterol is not the disease but the symptom.
Now it is true that diets high in saturated fats from animal based foods aren't going to help anyone, but either are continuing to eat cholesterol containing foods while artificially lowering cholesterol levels with the devil in pill form, Statins. Only 15% of cholesterol comes directly from the foods we eat. The link to diet is that a poor diet may cause the body to produce more cholesterol and that cholesterol is only present in animal foods. Plants are naturally cholesterol free (think about that the next time you see a box of Vegetable Thins proclaiming that they are now cholesterol free. Were they made from cow's before?). Cholesterol is manufactured in each and every cell of the body, produced directly in response to the need for it. What? The body needs cholesterol? Yepper skipper.
Let's take a holistic view shall we.
- Excess sugars & fats, especially those found in processed fats result in higher cholesterol levels
- Cholesterol is a contributing factors to cardiovascular disease, but not the cause of cardiovascular disease.
- Cholesterol circulates in the bloodstream in complexes called ‘Lipoproteins’. Lipoproteins act as the transport vehicles for cholesterol.
- Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL): Known as the ‘bad cholesterol’, carries cholesterol from the liver to the cells of the body.
- High Density Lipoprotein (HDL): Known as the ‘good cholesterol’ carries cholesterol from the cells of the body to the liver where it mixes with bile and is eliminated as waste.
What causes cholesterol levels to rise?
- A primary role of cholesterol in the body is to act as a barrier in the cell wall. Cholesterol helps dictate what will be let into the cell and what will be released from the cell- the cells’ defense system
- An increase in toxins from processed foods, chemicals, prescription medications, or environmental toxins enter the system and begin to circulate. With higher levels of toxins, cholesterol levels will increase as a means of protecting the DNA goodness inside the cells.
- Additional causes of elevated cholesterol levels include mental or physical stress or trauma, as well as stress derived from internal sources such as an inflammatory condition or surgery.
The Oodles of Roles Cholesterol Plays in The Body
- Cholesterol makes cells waterproof to help protect the cell from toxins
- Cholesterol is nature’s repair substance, used to repair wounds, including tears and irritations in the arteries.
- Many important hormones are made from cholesterol, including hormones that regulate mineral metabolism and blood sugar, hormones that help us deal with stress, and all the sex hormones such as testosterone, estrogen and progesterone.
- Cholesterol is vital to the function of the brain and nervous system.
- Cholesterol protects us against depression; it plays a role in the utilization of serotonin, the body’s “feel-good” chemical.
- The bile salts, needed for the digestion of fats are made from cholesterol.
- Cholesterol is the precursor to vitamin D, which is formed by the action of ultraviolet (UV-B) light on cholesterol in the skin.
- Cholesterol is a powerful antioxidant that protects us against free-radicals and therefore against cancer.
- Cholesterol, especially LDL-cholesterol, helps fight against infection.
Look at that! If we were to artificially lower our cholesterol levels you know what would happen? Our cells let in more toxins and we become more predisposed to cancer, we have poor wound healing, we end up with low levels of sex hormones and wind up on hormone replacement therapy or Viagra, we get depressed and end up on antidepressants, we don't have the bile to break down the fat in our diet and are therefore unable to absorb the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K, our skin gets rashy out in the sun and we become more susceptible to disease and infections.
How is cholesterol related to heart disease?
- Circulating free radicals, the result of ingestion or inhalation of toxic substances results in damage to arterial walls.
- The body uses cholesterol to smooth surface or fill the hole caused by the free radicals.
- Sticky fats, such as those found in fried foods and fatty animal proteins will stick to the cholesterol that was put in place to repair the free radical damage.
- This causes a narrowing in the passageway where blood needs to flow through the arteries.
- The best way to prevent heart disease relating to cholesterol is to increase intake of antioxidants (Vitamins A, C, E and the mineral zinc). These help protect the body from free radical damage, thus reducing the need for cholesterol deposits in the arteries.
How can cholesterol be lowered naturally?
- Soluble fibre is critical in lowering cholesterol levels naturally. In the large intestine, soluble fibre will bind to the cholesterol contained in bile and aid in eliminating it from the body. Without sufficient soluble fibre, 94% of cholesterol will be reabsorbed, this raising overall levels.
- Foods rich in soluble fibre: fruits, vegetables, oat bran, barley, seed husks, flaxseed, psyllium, dried beans, lentils, peas, soymilk and soy products.
- Increase antioxidant intake to reduce the body’s cholesterol production. Antioxidants, specifically vitamin C from fruits and vegetables help prevent free radical damage and reduce the body’s production of cholesterol. Lack of Vitamin C results in weakened tissues and arteries.
- Reduce consumption of meat - vegetarian diets have lower risk of CVD, due to higher fibre and antioxidant consumption
- Avoid processed foods as they are low in fibre and high in oxidized fats
- Avoid deep fried foods as high temperatures oxidize fats and form free radicals
- Oats are a cholesterol lowering superfood: Oats, via their high fiber content, are known to help remove cholesterol from the digestive system that would otherwise end up in the bloodstream. As well they contain a unique antioxidant/phytonutrient called avenanthramides that helps prevent free radicals from damaging LDL cholesterol, thus reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Ready for your bowl of oatmeal yet?
Super Powered Porridge
1/4 cup rolled oats (or whole grain of choice. Note that even if you are gluten-free, certified gluten-free oats are available at some health food stores)
3/4 - 1 cup water (depending on how mushy you like your porridge)
1 tsp cinnamon
1 Tbs cacao
2 Tbs flaxseeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, or rice bran
1 Tbs gogi berries
stevia to taste
1 tsp spirulina (optional)
1 Tbs Maca (optional)
1 tsp coconut oil (optional)
Sprinkle of walnuts (Optional)
- Bring whole grain, water and cinnamon to a boil and then lower heat to a simmer
- While porridge is cooking, grind together cacao, seeds of choice, gogi berries, stevia and optional maca and spirulina
- Pour ground super powered foods into a bowl and add cooked grain. Stir together. May need to add additional water until desired consistency is achieved.