Cholesterol friend or foe

Cholesterol plays a huge role in the function of your body.  It is necessary for the structure of your brain, it goes towards producing certain hormones, it forms part of every membrane of every cell in your body and it is also made into bile acids to help you digest fat.

80% of cholesterol is made in the liver and only 20% comes from diet.  Cholesterol alongside fats known a triglycerides and fat-soluble vitamins travel to various destinations around the body in ‘buses’ known as lipoproteins of varying sizes.  The most commonly known ones are low density lipoproteins (LDL) which can bring cholesterol, fat and fat soluble vitamins to the cell and high density lipoproteins (HDL) which can take excess cholesterol and or waste products back to the liver.

But both are used for immune purposes when you have an infection.  This is because they are able to mark out bacteria for your immune system to deal with.  During an infection less cholesterol, particularly LDL, goes back to the liver as immune cells need it on site to deal with the problem.  When the immune system is not active then the liver takes LDL back to carry on with the job of making hormones and other structural components.

Often bacteria can enter your body via the gut which can become permeable during chronic stress or due to damage from certain foods.  So infection and inflammation are very common reasons for a sudden increase in cholesterol levels yet may not be revealed until a blood test.  What is more older people whose guts tend to be more ‘leaky’ may often live longer with higher cholesterol levels because of its supporting role.

But ideally we should be focusing on foods that are kind to the gut and taking steps to manage stress levels to avoid this situation if we can. A thyroid problem may also lead to increased cholesterol levels.  In a normal situation when the liver needs to make some hormones from LDL for example it asks permission from the thyroid to be able to do so.  This process cannot take place so easily if the thyroid is under-functioning.

One of the reasons that LDL is much maligned is that it is dangerous if oxidised in high amounts and then it becomes a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.  The good news is that choline can help prevent cholesterol from becoming too oxidised.  Choline is an essential nutrient that can be found abundantly in poor old eggs!  A meta-analysis has found not only that higher consumption of eggs is not associated with increased risk of heart attack or stroke but that consumption of 21 eggs per week showed the most favourable outcome.  http://www.bmj.com/content/346/bmj.e8539

 

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