When doctors warn about high cholesterol, it’s not the cholesterol you eat they are worried about. Rather, it’s how much cholesterol is circulating in your blood. But, would you be surprised to learn that cholesterol is a vital substance your body needs?
Your body uses cholesterol to:
• produce hormones, such as
- Testosterone and Estrogen, which produce the physical characteristics of adult men and women;
- Cortisol, which is involved in regulating blood-sugar levels and defending against infection; and
- Aldosterone, which helps retain salt and water in the body;
• help repair and create cells;
• make vitamin D, which is responsible for strong bones and teeth; and
• make bile, which is used to digest fatty foods and to absorb the fat-soluble vitamins.
Digesting fats, synthesizing hormones, building and repairing cell walls and other important functions are possible only with the help of cholesterol.
The liver manufactures and reuses cholesterol. Because cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that does not readily mix with our watery blood, the liver sends out cholesterol through the blood stream as various kinds of lipoproteins. The blood carries cholesterol particles, as low-density lipoproteins (LDL), to the various body tissues for use. After serving its purposes in the body, cells excrete cholesterol back into the blood stream as high-density lipoproteins (HDL) to carry cholesterol particles back to the liver.
Your body loses some cholesterol each day via elimination through bile, so the liver is constantly making new cholesterol to replace what is used up or lost. Problems arise when you produce or ingest too much cholesterol. If all of it cannot be used, it can be deposited anywhere in the blood vessels where it can oxidize and form plaque. Correspondingly, if HDL levels are low, excess cholesterol particles excreted into the blood stream are not transported back to the liver, and again, oxidize to form plaque. This is why HDL is ‘good’, because it carries cholesterol back to the liver, keeping it from being oxidized. LDL is ‘bad’, because if not used, its cholesterol easily oxidizes in the blood vessels. High levels of cholesterol are a risk factor for coronary heart disease, the nation’s number one killer. According to the American Heart Association, over 100 million Americans have cholesterol levels that exceed the recommended total and 20 percent of Americans have elevated levels.
If your body makes all the cholesterol necessary for its functions, where does excess cholesterol come from? From animal products in your diet. To balance these two sources of cholesterol, your body attempts to adjust the amount it produces each day. For example, if you eat animal products, your body gets more cholesterol from your diet, so your body slows down its production of cholesterol. On the other hand, when most of the foods you eat come from plant sources, your body maintains its cholesterol needs.
However, problems occur when this process is unbalanced by a regular diet containing high levels of animal products.The average level of LDL cholesterol for American adults age 20 and older is 115.0 mg/dL or under; for HDL cholesterol it is 60 mg/dL or higher. Plaque formed by cholesterol is a major contributor to heart disease and stroke. However, other risk factors, such as inherited conditions, exercise and lifestyle, help your doctor determine what your LDL and HDL levels should be. Healthy cholesterol levels vary between individuals, and should be discussed with your health care provider.
Atherosclerosis is the process of fatty substances, cholesterol, cellular waste products, calcium and fibrin building up in the inner lining of any artery creating plaque, which blocks blood flow through the artery. Where plaque occurs, there may be bleeding into the plaque or the formation of a blood clot on the plaque’s surface. If one of these blocks the entire artery, it results either in a heart attack or stroke. Depending on which blood vessels are blocked, imbalanced cholesterol levels increase the risk of other conditions, such as coronary heart disease and peripheral vascular disease, and have been linked to diabetes and high blood pressure.
Remember, in most cases, your body will regulate its own cholesterol levels. It’s just when you overwhelm it with dietary cholesterol that your cholesterol levels may become imbalanced, although genetics and other factors may play a role.
So, what should you do to control your cholesterol levels? It is worth noting that cholesterol-lowering drugs are not the best answer to high cholesterol! Making better choices in the food you eat and the life you lead can help you lower your cholesterol naturally.
1. Limit daily consumption of animal products.
Beef, poultry, shellfish, eggs, pork, cheese, milk and butter, and foods made with a high concentration of these, may be supplying your body with too much cholesterol. In addition, deep-fried foods can contribute to dietary cholesterol.
2. exercise moderately and regularly.
Exercise stimulates enzymes that help move cholesterol from the blood to the liver. So, the more you exercise, the more cholesterol your liver recirculates or eliminates. Try to get a minimum of 30 minutes per day of walking, jogging, biking or similar exercise.
3. eat more fiber.
Fruits, vegetables and whole grains contain cholesterol-lowering dietary fiber. Soluble fiber, in particular, acts like a sponge to absorb and eliminate cholesterol.
4. eat more antioxidants.
Free radicals oxidize cholesterol. Antioxidants eliminate free radicals. Therefore, the more antioxidants in your body, the fewer free radicals to oxidize cholesterol. It’s good to know that you don’t have to live with a cholesterol imbalance. Bring your cholesterol back into balance naturally through the right food and lifestyle choices!