Cholesterol – Roles and Reasons for Elevation

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Cholesterol has gotten a lot of bad rep, but without it the body could not survive. First thing first – what is cholesterol? Cholesterol is a sterol – an unsaturated steroid alcohol – most of which, approximately 75% is made in the liver, with a smaller portion made in the intestinal lining and a very small amount made by every cell in the body.

“If you’re afraid of butter, use cream.”
― Julia Child

There are four main forms of cholesterol which are found in the bloodstream, organs and nerve fibres, chylomicrons,  high density lipoproteins (HDL), low density lipoprotein (LDL) and very low density lipoprotein, all of which have distinct roles in the body.

Chylomicrons are responsible for transporting dietary triglycerides, cholesterol and other lipids from adipose tissues in the intestines to tissues. 

HDL which is often referred to as ‘good’ cholesterol is synthesized in the liver and composed of high levels of phospholipids  (fat) and cholesterol. HDL is necessary as it transports cholesterol form peripheral tissues of cells to the liver.

LDL which is often referred to as ‘bad’ cholesterol is responsible for the transportation of cholesterol to peripheral tissues from either the liver, intestine or other cells in the body. LDL provides nutrients, and primarily cholesterol to the cells, ensuring the rigidity of the cell membrane, as well as providing specific organs a supply of cholesterol to ensure the synthesis of hormones necessary for the bodies functions.  LDL also regulates the new synthesis of cholesterol at these sites.

VLDL delivers endogenously synthesized triglycerides to adipose tissues. This form of cholesterol is primary synthesized in the liver.

Most of cardiology today tries to push cholesterol levels below 100, however, evidence shows that cholesterol levels below 150 can be disastrous for the health of brain, hormones and immune system. Making sure that inflammation is low and intestinal health is balanced is essential at maintaining health levels of cholesterol.

The 5 Roles of Cholesterol

ONE: Cell membrane integrity
  • protection from toxins
  • prevents cell dehydration
  • more cholesterol in membrane = more ridget

example: if we are exposed to toxicity we increase cholesterol in the cell membrane to protect the cells interior.

TWO: Component of Bile
  • Bile/ bile salts help emulsify fats by forming micelles that are polar on the outside and nonpolar on the inside – basically they aid in fat metabolism (the digestion and absorption of lipids)

THREE: Precursor for steroid hormones
  • estrogen, progesterones, testosterone
  • aldosterone
  • cortisol
  • None of these can be made without cholesterol
FOUR: Precursor for Vitamin D
  • increases Calcium uptake, utilization & retention
  • anticancer properties
  • role in immunity
  • Skin cells have cholesterol under them, which takes Vitamin D
FIVE: Acts as an antioxidant when Antioxidants are depleted

Cholesterol aids in the fight against free radical damage and oxidation to cells and organs within the body. Particularly to arterial walls.

Reasons for elevated cholesterol levels

  • Excess Sugar: anytime you have too much sugar it increases fat = cholesterol
  • Excess fat: processed and non-essential dietary fatty acids = some of these fats get converted into cholesterol
  • Deficiencies of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and EFAs: low in any of these and cells will be threatened and therefore use more cholesterol for protection.
  • Low dietary fibre intake: cholesterol is built into bile, if there is not enough fiber in the diet to remove the bile, bile will simply be reabsorbed back into the liver {or where it came from}.
  • Need for increased membrane integrity – especially if there is a high amount of toxins in the body 

  • Increased toxins and or free radicals – cholesterol production will increase to aid in cell protection and maintenance as well as to act as a free radical
  • Chronic dehydration
  • Chronic Stress: cortisol increases with stress – burning  through cortisol = increase in cholesterol. Cortisol = stress management hormone. Sources of stress = emotional, physical (trauma, exercise), pollution, dysbiosis, light, sound, electrical pollution, microwave.
  • Low Thyroid Function: HMG CoA reduction = makes cholesterol T3 inhibits the reduction. When someone has low thyroid the breaks on making cholesterol come off and too much cholesterol is made. Hypothyroidism makes the liver and the gallbladder run slowly – this makes fat that enters the body harder to breakdown and uptake, as well as clear it from the body. Moreover, cells in the body become less receptive to taking up LDL resulting in the accumulation of cholesterol. 

References 

Bowden, J., & Sinatra, S. (2012). The Great Cholesterol Myth: Why lowering your cholesterol won’t prevent heart disease and the statin free plan that will. New York: Fair Winds Press. 

Eds. Ezzati, M., Lopez, A.D., Rodgers, A & Murray, C.J.L. (2004). Comparative Quantification of Health Risks Global and regional Burden of Disease Attributable of selected major risk factors. Volume 1. Geneva: WHO. Online Available at WHO

Heart Disease is a gut-immune-hormone disease. (2010). Dr. Datis Kharrazian. Online available at drknews.com. 

Institute of Medicine. (2005). Dietary Reference Intake for Energy, Carbohydrates, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein and Amino Acids. Washington DC: The National Academic Press. 

What is Cholesterol? (2017). Health Direct. Online available at Health Direct

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