ave you noticed the media obsession over the topic of cholesterol? Let’s discuss some myths around cholesterol.
Myth #1: “Cholesterol” is all the same
Cholesterol is a molecule floating through your blood and playing a major role in the structure of your cells and your nervous system. Although we tend to worry about the quantity of cholesterol in a person’s blood, what's more important than quantity is the type of cholesterol found in your blood (you have probably heard about “bad” and “good cholesterol” already).
For simplicity’s sake I will not go into more details and will stick to the “good” and “bad” labels for now to refer to each type of cholesterol. Finally, cholesterol has very different effects on your body depending on which type of structure and function it has.
Myth #2: Cholesterol is the bad guy
Cholesterol has been portrayed as the “bad guy” for decades, leading to the invention of margarine made out of vegetable oils, in an attempt to avoid good old butter.
Cholesterol is absolutely necessary for your body to produce sex hormones like progesterone and testosterone, vitamin D (e.g. estrogen and testosterone), as well as bile necessary for the absorption of dietary fats. It turns out that cholesterol is a pretty big deal in the realm of your body function.
Research has suggested that cholesterol levels in the blood are not the only marker for heart disease, and that inflammation and other risk factors are to be considered before shooting the messenger (cholesterol, that is).
Myth #3: Cholesterol found in food increases your “bad” cholesterol levels
Most of the cholesterol in your blood is made by your liver. Did you know that?!
What you eat will certainly affect how much cholesterol your liver produces. The liver will decide whether additional cholesterol is required based on how much you have consumed through your diet.
As you can see, the liver has a big role in maintaining cholesterol levels. Often dis-regulation in your cholesterol levels may be a sign of a sluggish liver. Therefore, my approach when addressing clients with high cholesterol levels, often includes a nutrition protocol targeting the liver function.
Myth #4: The lower the cholesterol, the better
Resorting to extremes can never be good news for your health. People with extremely low levels of cholesterol are at a high risk of developing neurological issues since the nervous system is structurally dependent on cholesterol for maintaining function and cellular fluidity.
Myth #5: Cholesterol Medications is the only way to keep cholesterol low
Drugs like statins can certainly lower the “bad” cholesterol, but, unfortunately, they don't seem to be able to raise the “good” HDL cholesterol all that well. Also, medications are known to come with their list of side effects.
One possible way of lowering your cholesterol levels is through nutrition - by adding lots of fruits and veggies. I am not talking about “an apple a day” nutrition here. For an impact, you would have to eat say up to 10 servings a day of a variety of fruits and vegetables, every day. It sounds a lot but it is possible.
Other things that can certainly help you target your cholesterol levels is exercising and improving the quality of your dietary fats (time to ditch that processed margarine!). Last, but not least, before you decide to change your medication regimen, make sure to talk to your prescribing doctor.
The science of heart health and cholesterol has not yet been fully mastered. Plenty of research is currently going on to better understand the connection between the two. Meanwhile, there is a lot that you can do from a nutritional and lifestyle perspective to balance your cholesterol levels and allow your hard-working liver to catch up on its backlog.