top of page
Search

Cholesterol is GOOD for You!


French fries in oil

Most people think they need to stop eating meat, eggs and butter when their cholesterol levels are elevated, but let me assure you, if your cholesterol is high, you really need to fix your digestion and liver function!


Cholesterol is a lipid or fat that’s produced by your liver or delivered via animal products you consume. Only animal foods contain cholesterol.  It is used by your body to produce hormones, but also energy. 


We usually think of Cholesterol as something bad that’s causing us heart disease or rather coronary artery disease. For example, despite all the scaremongering, LDL cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol) on its own doesn’t actually tell us that much unless it’s at very rare high levels. 


In this blog post, we'll explore the positive aspects of cholesterol and why it's an essential component for maintaining hormone balance and overall health and at what time cholesterol CAN actually get dangerous for your health. 


So let’s look first at why cholesterol is GOOD for you:


Cellular Integrity and Structure: Cholesterol is a fundamental building block for the structure of cell membranes. It provides stability and fluidity, ensuring cells maintain their integrity. Without adequate cholesterol, cells would struggle to maintain their shape and function properly. It’s crucial to keep your brain and nervous system healthy. 


Hormone Production: Cholesterol serves as a precursor for your body’s production of hormones such as estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, and cortisol - these are crucial for reproductive health (and hormone balance in general), stress response, energy levels, mental health and overall well-being. 


Vitamin D Production: Cholesterol plays a pivotal role in the production of vitamin D when your skin is exposed to sunlight: no cholesterol, no vitamin D production... Vitamin D is essential for bone health, immune function, and overall vitality. 


Brain Health and Cognitive Function: The brain is rich in cholesterol, emphasizing its importance for cognitive function. Cholesterol is involved in the formation of synapses, the connections between nerve cells, and is essential for the production of myelin, the protective coating around nerve fibers. A healthy brain relies on adequate cholesterol levels. You’ll actually find 25% of the cholesterol in your body in your brain. In fact, high cholesterol levels are linked to better cognitive function in the elderly (Source).


Digestive Health: Cholesterol plays a role in the production of bile acids, essential for the digestion and absorption of fats. A well-functioning digestive system relies on adequate cholesterol levels to support efficient nutrient absorption and detoxification.Cholesterol is used by your liver to make bile acids to help digest fat - funny right: you need cholesterol to digest fat and also detoxify…


Cell Signalling: Cholesterol is involved in cell signalling pathways, ensuring that cells communicate effectively with each other. This signaling is essential for various physiological processes, including growth, repair, and immune response.


I hope I have convinced you now that cholesterol is GOOD for you? Ok then let’s talk about what causes poor cholesterol balance - hint it’s not eating too many eggs, meat or butter!


My cholesterol levels actually were the worst when I was a vegan! So you see that eating animal protein, butter, eggs and so on are not the culprit here: your digestion, liver and gallbladder health are the main things to improve. 


But first, let’s make sure we’re all talking about the same thing and you follow along when we get into the different types of cholesterol:


Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL) Cholesterol:

  • Commonly known as the "Bad" cholesterol

  • Function: LDL cholesterol carries cholesterol & triglycerides from the liver to the cell membranes to produce energy. LDL oxidizes quickly therefore it increases inflammation and your risk of heart disease when it doesn’t get cleared from your bloodstream by HDL.

  • Optimal Levels: not higher than 120mg/dl (will be higher over 60)

High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL) Cholesterol:

  • Commonly known as the "Good" cholesterol

  • Function: HDL cholesterol sweeps up excess LDL particles from the bloodstream and tissues and transporting it back to the liver for recycling. High levels of HDL are associated with a lower risk of heart disease because it helps remove cholesterol from the arteries.

  • Ideal Range: 55-85 mg/dl - HDL goes down in the setting of insulin resistance, and low HDL is associated with heart disease risk, so higher is better!

Very Low-Density Lipoprotein (VLDL) Cholesterol:

  • Function: VLDL cholesterol carries mainly triglycerides to your tissues. VLDL is similar to LDL, but LDL carries mostly cholesterol instead of triglycerides. The triglycerides make VLDL denser than LDL. High levels of VLDL are associated with an increased risk of heart disease.

  • Ideal Range: 5-40 mg/dl

Triglycerides:

  • Function: Triglycerides are a type of fat found in your blood that serves as an energy source for your body and is stored in fat cells. They are important in a healthy diet but elevated triglyceride levels are associated with an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. Higher triglyceride and lower HDL levels typically occur with insulin resistance or liver dysfunction.

  • Ideal range: 50-90mg/dl

Total Cholesterol:

  • The total cholesterol level is the sum of LDL, HDL, and 20% of VLDL cholesterol.

  • Maintaining a healthy balance among these cholesterol components is crucial for cardiovascular health

When it comes to your lipid panel, what matters most for evaluating a risk of heart disease are the ratios: having a balanced ratio of LDL to HDL and triglycerides to HDL is essential for good health. LDL: HDL Ratio: 3:1 or less (2:1 is optimal)


What causes poor cholesterol ratios or rather what can you do to bring up the good and down the bad cholesterol?


Poor cholesterol and lipid ratios are often the result of a poor diet, a lack of physical activity, toxic overload or other source of inflammation. When your liver is overworked with all the things I mentioned, it will negatively impact your cholesterol levels. 

And yes in perimenopause and menopause you may see your cholesterol getting elevated once over sudden and that’s because of your declining or low levels of estrogen. In this case, bringing up your estrogen levels is key to lowering your cholesterol levels. 


Inflammation causes chronic disease - not cholesterol!

A poor diet increases inflammation in the body and that changes your lipid metabolism. These changes include decreases in HDL cholesterol, and increases in triglycerides and LDL levels (Source)


So your diet is the first thing you can start with: avoid inflammatory foods such as:

toxic cooking oils overview
  • ​​Sugar

  • Gluten

  • Refined carbohydrates (pizza, pasta, baked goods…)

  • Conventionally-raised meat and dairy

  • Farm-raised fish

  • Processed meats or fake (vegan) meats

  • Trans fats (partially hydrogenated oils)

  • Mono-sodium Glutamate (MSG) and other food additives and preservatives

  • Highly processed vegetable and seed oils, such as canola, corn, sunflower, peanut, grapeseed, and safflower



Liver congestion: Your liver function is the first thing to look at when your cholesterol is elevated: it creates cholesterol for hormone production and tissue healing. When HDL carries cholesterol from other parts of the body to the liver, the liver is responsible for breaking down and eliminating cholesterol from the body. It does that by converting it to bile salts and putting it into the bile so that it can be eliminated in the feces. So when it’s overworked, this process is not working properly.


Hypothyroid function: When your thyroid function is sluggish, the liver cannot process as much cholesterol as it should. The body does not break down and remove LDL cholesterol as efficiently. Conversely, when your liver is congested, it can have a negative impact on your thyroid function. I see this with clients all the time: once we get the liver back on track, the thyroid levels come back to normal too.


Insulin resistance (and type 2 diabetes) have been associated with high triglycerides and low HDL cholesterol levels. So again, tackling your sugar, carb and processed food intake is the first thing to do, but also consider high sugar fruit and other healthy sugar traps. Insulin resistance can also be linked to other herds of inflammation in your body so if you have a good diet, you need to look for other possible causes. 


Stress: triggers the release of adrenaline and your stress hormone cortisol.These hormones in turn stimulate the release of triglycerides and free fatty acids which can increase levels of LDL. 

Stress can also indirectly lead to elevated cholesterol levels, as stress = release of cortisol = increase your blood glucose levels = high insulin and elevated LDL. But stress also often makes us reach for unhealthy or junk food so it will further increase inflammation and your “bad” cholesterol.


Lack of movement: Movement is crucial to keep our metabolism going, to stimulate circulation and lymph flow and it also helps with moving around toxins and out of the body. So if you’re sitting too much and/or not moving enough, it can impact your lipid ratios. It can also lead to obesity which can significantly boost high LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels (Source)


Sunlight deficiency: vitamin D and cholesterol are both derived from squalene. When you get sun exposure, squalene is converted into 7-dehydrocholesterol and vitamin D. Without the sunlight, squalene is converted to LDL cholesterol instead. 


Poor Sleep/Sleep Apnea: Sleep disturbances, including insufficient sleep and conditions like sleep apnea, lead to inflammation and can disrupt hormonal balance, leading to insulin resistance and increased production of triglycerides.

There is a strong association between higher total cholesterol, lower HDL, higher LDL and elevated triglycerides and several measures of obstructive sleep apnea severity (Source). The negative impact of sleep apnea on lipid levels may in part explain the association between sleep apnea and increased risk of cardiovascular disease.


Genetics: of course play a role - you may have high(er) overall cholesterol levels from the start, but as long as you make sure your lipid ratios are good, you don’t have to worry about them. 




Recent Posts

See All

Comments


bottom of page