My dad is an integrative GP who firmly believes in the power of diet and lifestyle as medicine. Here is his take on cholesterol and why we need it.
It was not until the mid 20th century that we started to fear saturated fat and cholesterol. Our grandparents ate lots of meat and butter and they were pretty robust. In the early 1900’s most of us had a hard time keeping weight on, while heart disease was almost non-existent. Compare that to the present day, where people are obsessed with low-fat diets and cutting cholesterol with little to show for it. This fat phobia has contributed to a national obesity rate of 35%, where one-third of all deaths are blamed on heart disease. Something just doesn’t add up…
Where did this fat phobia come from?
Dr. Ancel Keys performed research in the 1950’s, where he proposed that countries with a higher intake of saturated fat and cholesterol have increased rates of heart disease. The Seven Countries study had a lot of academic critics but it caught on like wildfire and was adopted by the public. What no one, including the US government and the American Heart Association, took into account was that he had left out data from the other 15 countries he surveyed, making his results useless. Our fear of saturated fat and cholesterol is based on a flawed study!
10 Reasons You Need Cholesterol
During the past 50 years this fear of fat has taken hold, and rates of heart disease and obesity have skyrocketed, with no end in sight. Cholesterol is a natural healing substance that has many vital functions in the human body. If you are worried about cholesterol levels from a high fat diet, here are some reasons to put your mind at ease:
- It is a vital structural component of every human cell membrane and it aids in communication between cells. It is a necessary component in making new, healthy cells and it gives us the ability to heal from illness or injury.
- It helps reduce bloating by regulating the salt and water balance in the body.
- It is converted into bile in the liver, which helps us to digest fats. Many people who have been on a low-fat diet will have trouble with fat digestion.
- You need it to make adrenal hormones, cortisol and aldosterone, which help us cope with the stress of day-to-day living. A low-fat diet often does not supply enough substrate to make these hormones, which leads to adrenal fatigue, feelings of exhaustion and belly fat storage.
- UVB rays from the sun interact with the cholesterol in your skin to convert it to vitamin D. Cholesterol helps the absorption of Vitamin D, which is vital for proper immune function.
- Many studies indicate that cholesterol may act as an antioxidant to heal free radical damage. The standard American diet (SAD) is full of oxidized vegetable oils and sugars, which are pro-oxidants. These non-foods wreak havoc on your cells and cause damage that contributes to heart disease. The body produces more cholesterol in response to these inflammatory foods in an attempt to heal the damage they cause in our blood vessels.
- It helps in the formation of your memories and is crucial for proper neurological function. People with low HDL cholesterol can have impaired memory and are at an increased risk of developing dementia later in life.
- Elevated cholesterol is a sign that your body is making more to heal damaged cells. It is key to look for the true cause of the inflammation (i.e.: sugar, grains, vegetable oils), not kill the messenger by taking cholesterol medication with possibly dangerous side effects.
- Many times a high cholesterol test is your body trying to send you an important message, so please listen! Healing cholesterol is often produced in excess when there is a lack of thyroid hormone and/or there is an autoimmune thyroid attack. Normalizing thyroid hormone levels can help balance levels, as well as following a lower carbohydrate nutrient dense diet.
- It is very important for the communication between brain synapses, which make the feel good chemical serotonin. There have been many studies where people with abnormally low levels of cholesterol have tendencies toward violence or depression.
Cholesterol is a building block for the steroid hormones which help control our moods, metabolism, inflammation, immune, and sexual functions. The human body needs it in order to function, and without it we would not survive. The liver will intuitively make more when the diet does not provide enough. Many studies have shown that low cholesterol is a bigger risk factor for heart disease and mortality than high cholesterol. Elderly people with low cholesterol died twice as often from a heart attack, when compared with elderly people with high levels. According to Dr. Mark Hyman, higher cholesterol predicts lower risk of death from heart disease.
When evaluating your own levels do some critical thinking about what is best for you. Follow the money when your doctor advises you to take Statin drugs and ask for some hard evidence on why they are recommending them for you. Lifestyle interventions such as a low carbohydrate, Paleo diet, can help people achieve optimal lipid panel markers in a very short time, without any dangerous side effects. Use your best judgement when you hear how foods that kept our great grandparents healthy like grass-fed meat, raw cheese and grass-fed butter, are to blame for new diseases.
So what do you think? Would love to have your comments!