You may have thought that cholesterol is dangerous. You may even have thought that consuming cholesterol in your diet increases your risk of cardiovascular disease and even cancer. Therefore, you may assume that to improve your health and decrease your chances of getting heart disease, stroke or cancer that you need to reduce your intake of cholesterol. You would assume that would lower your blood cholesterol levels and bring you out of the danger zone. Is this true? To answer this question means understanding first what cholesterol is, and then what it does in the body.
What Is Cholesterol? Cholesterol is sterol: a waxy lipid (meaning fat) compound that is found in animal tissues. It performs a variety of essential functions in your body. For example, it facilitates both the absorption and the transportation of fatty acids.
It is also a fundamental building block for a variety of your hormones. These include both your adrenal hormones (cortisol, cortisone and aldosterone) and your sex hormones (progesterone, estrogens and testosterone). Additionally, it plays an important role in helping your brain to function well. The same is true for your immune system and your heart health.
Cholesterol’s Reputation. If cholesterol is so essential to your health, how did it develop the reputation of being the devil in molecular form? This shady reputation came about because it was seen that people who had heart disease or strokes also had high cholesterol levels. So it was thought that cholesterol levels themselves were the problem.
But actually the body raises cholesterol levels in response to a problem. In other words, high cholesterol levels are the body’s attempt to keep itself healthy. The body raises these levels to deal with inflammation. When the insides of the arteries and veins are inflamed, for example, the body sends cholesterol in to attempt to patch the areas of inflammation. It’s actually the inflammation that’s the problem, and not the cholesterol itself.
Blood Cholesterol Levels: What’s “normal”? Cholesterol levels are measured in milligrams (mg) of cholesterol per deciliter (dL) of blood. Current standards define desirable total cholesterol levels as less than 200 mg/dL, with 200-239 mg/dL defined as borderline high and 240 mg/dL and above high.
For low density lipoprotein cholesterol levels, less than 100 mg/dL is considered optimal, 100-129 mg/dL near optimal or above optimal, 130-159 mg/dL borderline high, 160-189 mg/dL high and 190 mg/dL and above very high. It is worth noting that these standards were defined after initial studies which were conducted only on men.
It remains to be seen whether the cholesterol levels defined as normal for the male body are actually best for a woman. Men’s hormone requirements are much different than women’s. Also, women’s bodies have a different biochemistry and metabolism than men, including hormonal production needs and responses, a fact that may seem obvious, but which has not been recognized in many “scientific” studies, particularly earlier ones.
When Cholesterol Intake is too Low. Cholesterol is so essential to your well-being, that if you do not provide enough in your diet for your body’s requirements, your body will make it. In other words, if your diet contains too little cholesterol, your bodily synthesis of cholesterol will go into high gear to produce enough. This is why you can reduce your dietary cholesterol and find that your blood cholesterol levels remain unchanged, that they’ve gone higher or even skyrocketed.
What this means is, that if your cholesterol levels are high, look for and eliminate the sources of inflammation that are driving those high levels, don’t try to eliminate the body’s attempt to repair the damage that inflammation is causing