It used to be that the word on cholesterol was simple: watch your saturated fat intake and avoid foods high in cholesterol to lower your risk of heart disease and stroke. But now some health and nutrition experts are saying that there may be more to learn about cholesterol and its role in cardiovascular disease. Is cholesterol really the bad guy here? And did you know that cholesterol is necessary for brain health, strong immunity, and adequate hormone production? Let’s see if we can learn a little more about how cholesterol works in the body to help you better understand its importance.
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a wax-like lipid that cannot be dissolved in the bloodstream. 1 It is used by the body to make new cell membranes as well as some hormones. 1 2 There are two main types of cholesterol:
LDL Cholesterol – Traditionally recognized as “bad cholesterol” because many health experts believe that it is involved in the clogging of arteries. 1
HDL Cholesterol – this type of cholesterol has been traditionally recognized as good cholesterol because some research has shown that it can help protect you from heart disease. 2 Some researchers are even saying that HDL cholesterol may clean the arteries of fatty deposits. 4
Cholesterol and good health
Now that we have covered the fundamentals of cholesterol, lets take a closer look at cholesterol’s role in keeping you healthy. Earlier we mentioned that cholesterol is necessary to produce new cell membranes (all of your living cells contain cholesterol). And we know that cholesterol is also involved with brain function, immunity, and hormone production. Let’s explore each of these areas in more detail…
Your immune system may depend on cholesterol more than you know. First, immune cells are partially composed of cholesterol. In a study by Professor Matthew Muldoon and his team at the University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, it was discovered that there is a correlation between low LDL cholesterol and a decreased white blood cell count. 1 According to information provided by the Weston A. Price foundation: it seems that LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol) supports immune function, and does play an important role in promoting human health. 3
What about your cognitive function in relation to cholesterol? Well, the nervous system depends on a fatty material called myelin in order to function correctly, and according to the Weston A. Price Foundation “The synthesis of myelin in the brain is tightly connected with the synthesis of cholesterol.” 3 Could it be that a lack of cholesterol or a problem utilizing cholesterol is part of the cause for some of today’s diseases of the mind and nervous system?
Not only is cholesterol needed by your brain, but it is also needed by your body’s endocrine glands. Your adrenal glands use cholesterol to help you deal with stress every day, and your male/female glands require cholesterol too. Yes, cholesterol is necessary for your sexual health as well. Please refer to this flowchart of hormones to get a better understanding of what we are talking about.
So why has cholesterol gotten a bad rap?
So if cholesterol does all of these great things, then why has it gotten such bad rap in the past? Is there really a direct correlation between high cholesterol and cardiovascular disease? Is cholesterol the root cause of these diseases? While we don’t have all the answers to these questions, researchers at the Weston A. Price Foundation are finding that there doesn’t seem to be a direct correlation between high cholesterol and cardiovascular diseases. 1 Could it be that cholesterol in the arteries is the end result of a deeper problem?
Other researchers believe that there are multiple important factors to consider in the development and progression of cardiovascular disease. One such risk factor that has been making headlines recently involves a substance called homocysteine. Homocysteine is a amino acid found in the blood, and it is by-product of eating meat. 5 In some people, this amino acid does not metabolize properly and tends to build up. High levels of homocysteine have been linked to many of the same problems that were thought to have been caused by high cholesterol including: atherosclerosis, heart disease, and strokes. 5
While we are on the subject of homocysteine, there are a few different methods for reducing homocysteine levels. Trimethylglycine (TMG) is known for it’s ability to lower homocysteine levels. 7 Certain B vitamins can also be very helpful. Web MD recommends more B vitamins, especially Folate. 5 We found that the B complex vitamins may also have a role in regulating cholesterol levels. 4 T.J. Clark offers a liquid B vitamin complex that increases your folate levels without depleting other essential B vitamins. Remember that the B vitamins work best together as part of a complex.
Is cholesterol really the enemy?
We can see that cholesterol is essential to the body, especially in times of stress and sickness. However, it seems that for some individuals, cholesterol can accumulate in the arteries and cause cardiovascular disease. What we do not know for sure is whether this is a problem caused by cholesterol or a deeper problem of some other kind. The only thing that is for sure is that many health and nutrition experts are developing a deeper understanding when it comes to the importance of cholesterol.
Perhaps the key lies in eating a healthy balanced diet with a moderate amount of cholesterol, while taking the right nutrients to help the body utilize cholesterol. Research has shown that chromium picolinate has a positive effect on cholesterol levels as well as glucose metabolism. 6 7 Could part of the problem with cholesterol be as simple as a chromium deficiency? It’s hard to say for sure without more research, but in our experience, taking chromium may help. T.J. Clark offers a very absorbable form of liquid chromium picolinate that may help you manage your cholesterol while giving your metabolism a boost.
In the end we can see that cholesterol is necessary for quite a few of our life-supporting systems. Is cholesterol the cause of cardiovascular disease? More research needs to be done in these areas before there is a strong consensus. But in the meantime, perhaps it would be best to focus on a balanced diet including a moderate amount of cholesterol, along with the right supplements, in order to help your body use cholesterol in a way that nature intended. Thanks for reading.
- The Benefits of High Cholesterol. Uffe Ravnskov, MD, PhD. The Weston A. Price Foundation.
- Cholesterol: Cholesterol and Men’s health. Jerry Kennard. About.com:Men’s Health.
- Cholesterol: Friend Or Foe? Natasha Campbell-McBride, MD. The Weston A. Price Foundation.
- How to Lower Cholesterol With Vitamins. Dana George. eHow.com.
- Heart Disease and Homocysteine. WebMD.com.
- The effect of chromium picolinate on serum cholesterol and apolipoprotein fractions in human subjects. R. I. Press, J. Geller, and G. W. Evans. Western Journal of Medicine.
- Trimethylglycine. Ray Sahelian, M.D. RaySahelian.com.