Cholesterol– a waxy compound that some have likened to soft candle wax– is a kind of sterol, which is found naturally in the tissues of both plants and animals, though only animals have cholesterol. Your body manufactures much of the cholesterol it needs in the liver, with much smaller amounts produced in the small intestine and in individual cells throughout your body. Of course, whenever we eat chicken, fish, beef, eggs, dairy or other animal products, we add to our cholesterol levels.Over time it has received the worst rap as the surest heart and artery destroyer and ultimate man killer. Well there’s a reason the body makes this compound in the first place, let’s see them.
Reasons Cholesterol is Not So Bad:
*Cholesterol performs several important functions in the body. Perhaps the most important of these is its role in forming and maintaining cell walls and structures. Cells also need cholesterol to help them adjust to changes in temperature, and it’s used by nerve cells for insulation.
*Additionally, cholesterol is essential for synthesizing a number of critical hormones, including the sex hormones testosterone, progesterone and estrogen.
*Bile, a fluid produced by the liver, plays a vital role in the processing and digestion of fats. To make bile, the liver uses cholesterol.
* Your body also needs cholesterol to make vitamin D; in the presence of sunlight, cholesterol is converted into vitamin D.
*In 1994, the American Heart Association Task Force on Cholesterol Issues published a groundbreaking report about a link between total cholesterol levels of less than 160 mg/dL and an increase in deaths from trauma, some types of cancer, hemorrhagic stroke, and respiratory and infectious diseases. Since then, most additional research links very low cholesterol levels to an increased risk of depression, suicide, anxiety, impulsivity and aggression in men and women, adolescents and adults alike.
*More recently, a study published in 2009 in the “Journal of Psychiatric Research” found that men with very low total cholesterol (165 mg/dL) and depression were at very high risk for premature death from unnatural causes: Men with low total cholesterol plus symptoms of depression were seven times more likely to die prematurely from suicides, drug overdoses, and accidents and injuries than those without those markers.
If cholesterol is so necessary, why is it sometimes described as “bad cholesterol,” and at other times as “good”? Because, like oil and water, cholesterol and blood don’t mix. Cholesterol is an oily, fatty compound that won’t dissolve or mix in to blood, which is water-based.
When there’s too much cholesterol in the blood, it collects on the inside linings of blood vessels, similar to the way grease and fats poured down the sink collect inside drain pipes. Whenplaquesof cholesterol form inside arteries, it’s known asatherosclerosisor “hardening of the arteries,” which can lead tostrokesand heart disease.
The main culprit in this dangerous process is cholesterol that’s packaged into lipoproteins that are less dense with protein and have more fats. These low-density lipoproteins, orLDL, are the “bad” cholesterol that collects in plaques on artery walls.
There’s a hero in this tale, though — and it’s also cholesterol. More specifically, cholesterol that’s packaged by the liver into lipoproteins that are dense with proteins and have less fat. These high-density lipoproteins, orHDL, are the “good” cholesterol. What’s good about HDL is the way it seems to remove plaques of LDL inside arteries, “cleaning” the arteries as it moves through the bloodstream.
The latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends getting less than 10 percent of calories each day from saturated fat. The American Heart Association goes even further, recommending limiting saturated fat to no more than 7 percent of calories. But framing diet recommendations in terms of “percentage of daily calories” is not terribly useful for the average consumer. That’s because people eat foods—not isolated nutrients.
As a general rule, it’s a good idea to keep your intake of saturated fats as low as possible. We can’t eliminate saturated fat from our diets completely, because foods that are good sources of healthy fats—olive oil, walnuts, salmon—also contain a little bit of saturated fat. And it would be a mistake to cut back on nuts, oils, and fish to minimize saturated fat. When you add it up, red meat and full-fat dairy products (cheese, milk, ice cream, butter) are among the main sources of saturated fat in our diets. So keeping these foods low is the best way to reduce intake of saturated fat. And when you cut back on red meat and dairy products, replace them with foods that contain healthy fats—fatty fish like salmon, nuts and seeds, plant oils, avocadoes—not with foods that are high in refined carbohydrates.
Whatever you do, don’t fall for the mistaken belief that the lower your cholesterol goes, the better. If you lower your cholesterol through artificial means (statin drugs) without addressing the underlying causes, your body will continue to degenerate.Leave the decision of how much cholesterol your body needs up to your body, and make the right lifestyle choices to keep your cells in their top condition. This way you get the best of both worlds: the right amount of cholesterol and a body in tip-top shape.