February is “Heart Health Month” so what better time to talk about the big “C” word…Cholesterol!
I’m prompted to do this by two back-to-back conversations with clients about cholesterol numbers going up on a Ketogenic diet. Whether you are on a low-carb diet or not, it’s important to have a clear picture of cholesterol and whether we should be so focused on the “one thing” for heart health. This is going to take a couple of articles over this month, so hang in there with me!
Just say the word cholesterol out loud. What images does it conjure up? Heart attack, stroke, clogged blood vessels, death??? Next ask yourself this question, “what is cholesterol and what does it do in my body?” Can you answer that question?
Cholesterol is hydrophobic, it doesn’t like water and prefers to hang out with other fats. It travels with some friends, LDL and HDL. Large production of cholesterol occurs in the liver. The body makes about 1000mg of cholesterol daily. Very low cholesterol is a bad sign that the liver is not functioning well and is associated with a higher risk of cancer.
Cholesterol is found in all animal sources of food and daily consumption is around 200-300mg, about the weight of 3 raindrops. Most of the cholesterol from food is not absorbed but preferentially passed in the stool. The gut prefers to absorb the cholesterol made by the liver and passed into the bile to assist with digestion.
Cholesterol is the King of Hormones
Cholesterol is the foundation of all your steroidal hormones.
Without cholesterol to make your testosterone your libido disappears (women too!) Testosterone increases muscle mass and leads to improved bone density and strength. Low “T” is linked to Alzheimer’s, erectile dysfunction and coronary artery disease.
Progesterone is produced in the ovaries, adrenal glands, and placenta when pregnant. For a pre-menopausal woman to be put on cholesterol-lowering medications is a crime! She’s already losing progesterone as she heads into menopause and that is what causes hot flashes, low libido and the general “menopausal” symptoms that often start in her forties.
Yep, we need cholesterol to make estrogen too! The last thing a woman wants as she enters menopause is to lower estrogen even further making it a higher risk for bone loss, cognitive function and low libido.
This molecule is converted to estrogen and testosterone. DHEA is made in the adrenals, testes and ovaries from cholesterol. Low DHEA is associated with an increased risk of heart attack, stroke and diabetes.
Cortisol is the main “energy” hormone of the body and cortisol is made from cholesterol. Cortisol’s primary function is to increase blood sugar (if a tiger is chasing you!), balance the immune system, aid in fat, protein and carbohydrate metabolism. Cortisol maintains blood pressure and is important for digestion.
Cholesterol is needed to convert the sunlight into vitamin D! We now understand the vitamin D is actually a hormone.
As you can see, cholesterol is an essential molecule and every cell in the body needs it. The cell membrane is rich in cholesterol and your brain is 80% fat, much of that cholesterol. So if it is so good, why is it so bad??? OR is it?
You’ve Had an Accident
The best analogy to start this conversation with is this…
You’ve just been involved in a two-car accident and there are injuries involved that require an ambulance. The ambulance shows up on the scene of the accident and everybody starts blaming the ambulance for the accident. I’m sure you’re thinking, “that’s a little crazy.”
Well, that’s what we do with the cholesterol story. Inflammation and oxidation cause damage to your arterial walls. Cholesterol’s job is to come along and “repair” the damage with plaque. How can we blame it for doing its job???
The true culprits here are the inflammation and oxidation, not cholesterol!
I will continue this story next week!!
Until then, enjoy your butter, bacon, and eggs!