Good Fats and Bad Fats
What Is Cholesterol
Cholesterol has a huge impact on blood pressure, and we’re often told by our health professionals to lower our cholesterol levels to be healthy.
In fact, it’s gotten to the point where doctors will blithely hand out cholesterol lowering medication but fail to educate people on what cholesterol is.
So let’s start there.
Cholesterol is a waxy, off white coloured fat.
Contrary to popular belief, cholesterol is not only a result of the food you eat.
In fact, only about 20% is from food sources. The other 80% is made by your liver and your intestines.
This explains why some healthy people will have genetically high cholesterol levels despite a very clean diet.
Excess cholesterol in the blood stream is a well-known contributor to the creation of plaque that clogs arteries.
As we age, arterial elasticity declines and so these clogged arteries accumulate more plaques which can impede blood flow, resulting in a heart attack.
However, new research is suggesting that cholesterol is not acting alone – in fact, there are some populations with high cholesterol levels that show a decreased levels of arteriosclerosis (thickening and hardening of the arterial walls).
This has led researchers to new evidence suggesting that the development of cardiovascular disease may actually lie with inflammation (stress, diet and environment).
Why We Need Cholesterol
Cholesterol is not quite the big evil your doctor has led you to believe.
For starters, every cell in your body needs cholesterol as it’s part of the cell membrane.
Cholesterol also plays a crucial role in making Vitamin D, bile salts as well as sex hormones .
Think about this: as we age, our cholesterol levels rise as our sex hormones and ability to digest food decreases.
Let’s do a quick exercise:
Consider the average body type of a 25 year old woman with an 85 year old woman
Now consider the average body type of a 25 year old man with an 85 year old man
Lastly, consider the body types of the 85 year old man and woman
It would be fair to say that despite gender differences, the body types of the 85 year old male and female have more in common than with their younger counterparts.
This is a result of decreased sex hormones causing a general lack of muscular tone and a tendency for fat to deposit centrally (around the abdomen).
How many elderly people are on blood pressure medications, cholesterol lowering medications as well as reflux or heartburn medications?
It is no surprise as all three are linked.
As a naturopath, the aim is to continue to support the body to do what it does naturally – that is make cholesterol in healthy levels.
We can ensure that sex hormone synthesis is not too greatly impaired by age by ensuring a good quality diet, high in fatty acids and doing regular exercise (particularly strength training).
Good Cholesterol vs Bad Cholesterol
As cholesterol is a fat, it can’t travel alone in the bloodstream without being bound to protein.
When bound to a protein, it is now called lipoprotein (fatprotein) and is able to travel through the bloodstream in different densities.
Generally speaking, the lower the density, the worse the cholesterol.
But have no fear – the lipoproteins are able to “morph” from one density to another.
Here’s a quick list of the different forms of cholesterol:
Chylomicrons: The largest particles that mainly carry triglycerides (fatty acids from your food).
They are made in the digestive system and are influenced by what you eat.
Very Low Density Lipoprotein (VLDL): Also transport triglycerides to tissues.
They are made by the liver. Extracted fatty acids from VLDL turn into IDL and, later, LDL.
Intermediate Density Lipoprotein (IDL): Formed from VLDL, they are removed from the liver and can be changed into low-density lipoproteins.
Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL): A more concentrated form of cholesterol as the triglyceries have been removed, this is known as the BAD cholesterol as it is linked to the build-up of plaque.
High-density lipoprotein (HDL): These are like Hope that escaped from Pandora’s Box – these good cholesterol particles remove cholesterol from circulation and artery walls, returning to the liver for excretion.
In ye olden days, before cholesterol was separated into its different forms, doctors would see only the one reading and automatically assume the worst.
This was when eating too many eggs was bad and coconut oil was the worst thing on the planet. Ah, how things have changed.
What To Do Next
So now you know what cholesterol is, why we need it and why, in excess, it can cause issues.
If you have high cholesterol and blood pressure, the first thing a naturopath will do is look at your diet and its impact on your liver and gall bladder.
This is why we are termed holistic practitioners – rather than just giving you a pill to lower your blood pressure, we prefer to get to the root of the problem and address it there.
In this case we know that gallstones are extremely common in the Western world, with up to 80% of the gallstones being composed of cholesterol.
Bile is secreted by the liver and is largely made of cholesterol, so the more bile is made, the more cholesterol is taken out of circulation.
So let’s look at ways to increase bile, Vitamin D and sex hormones:
- Remove refined sugars and carbohydrates – if it’s been processed and it’s white, get rid of it
- Ditch the caffeine
- Increase whole foods – especially fiber to promote better digestion and elimination
- Decrease animal fats
- Decrease fried foods (high in bad fats)
- Get out in the sun for around 20 – 30 minutes a day. Expose as much skin as you can, avoid doing this during the hottest part of the day during summer
- Consider seeing your naturopath to make more personalised suggestions regarding hormonal status or digestive function