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Cholesterol - Friend or Foe?

Updated: Feb 7

It’s February which means besides for all the red you see for Valentine’s day, it's also national heart month! In honor of heart month let’s talk a bit about heart health, particularly cholesterol.

Cholesterol tends to get a bad rap but did you know it's necessary for your survival? You need cholesterol to make hormones, produce vitamin D, and help digest your food. So let’s dive in a little deeper about what cholesterol is, what it does, and why you need it.

Cholesterol is a fatty substance that is in every cell of your body. There are two main types of cholesterol: HDL and LDL. HDL stands for high-density lipoprotein. You often hear this called “good cholesterol” because it carries cholesterol from various parts of the body to the liver where it is removed from the body. On the other hand, LDL stands for low-density lipoprotein. This is often referred to as “bad cholesterol” because it is the type of cholesterol found in artery plaque buildup.

Although high cholesterol is often said to lead to heart disease there is more to the story (see LDL-C does not cause cardiovascular disease). New studies show the bigger culprit of heart disease is inflammation. Think of LDL cholesterol as the bandage trying to heal the inflammation. So if cholesterol is abnormally high, we really want to focus on reducing inflammation and in turn, your body won't need as much of the bandage and will naturally reduce elevated cholesterol levels (and exercise helps to quickly excrete excess cholesterol). There are multiple factors that can lead to this chronic inflammation:

  • Diets high in sugar and refined carbohydrates

  • Poor quality fats such as conventional meat and oils like corn, soy and canola

  • Toxic chemicals in our environment

  • Gut dysbiosis

  • Nutrient deficiencies

  • Stress

Not only is cholesterol not the enemy, but our bodies also need cholesterol to function. Cholesterol is:

  • Found in high concentration in the brain helping with cognitive function

  • A major building block of bile required for digestion

  • Needed for a healthy gut lining to help protect against leaky gut

  • Found in breastmilk and is an important nutrient for human growth

Now that we know that inflammation is the major factor of heart disease, how can you keep inflammation low and therefore, cholesterol within a healthy range? Adding anti-inflammatory foods to your diet can give a major boost! Try some of these foods to get started:

Berries - contain antioxidants called anthocyanins which have anti-inflammatory effects

Wild, fatty fish – provide omega-3 fatty acids which have been shown to reduce inflammatory markers

Broccoli – a great source of sulforaphane, a powerful anti-inflammatory antioxidant

Green tea – high in EGCG which can reduce inflammation and protect from cellular damage

Probiotic foods – kombucha, cultured yogurt & fermented vegetables like sauerkraut

And this is just a start! For a true anti-inflammatory diet, you need to remove the inflammatory foods and replace them with anti-inflammatory foods. If you want to eat a comprehensive anti-inflammatory diet, I can help tailor one for your preferences and lifestyle needs. Book a free consultation with me to learn more.

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