Being Heart Week this week it seemed like an opportune time to discuss cholesterol in the body, what it is and why it gets such a bad rap? Cholesterol indeed has a bad reputation but did you know that a healthy level of cholesterol actually has important roles in the body. Not only is it a structural component of our cell membranes contributing to their permeability and pliability but it is an important pre-cursor to the steroid hormones, bile and vitamin D. Having a high cholesterol level doesn’t necessarily mean you will have a heart attack. If there is little inflammation in the body, including in the blood vessel walls, the cholesterol has no reason to go there to form plaque. This is the substance which causes the narrowing of the arteries. Cholesterol is often categorised as good (High Density Lipoproteins or HDLs) cholesterol and bad (low Density Lipoproteins or LDLS) cholesterol. In fact these are not cholesterol molecules at all but rather fat & protein molecules which transport cholesterol around the body, the good taking the cholesterol to the liver where it can be broken down and the bad to the artery walls to form plaque, amongst other places.
Despite having a role in familial hypercholesterolemia (genetic disposition to very high cholesterol) pharmaceutical drugs which hinder the production of cholesterol such as the statins (eg Lipitor & Crestor), will subsequently hinder the production of other important compounds such as vitamin D. They also deplete the body of an important nutrient for the production of energy in the muscles called Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) and this includes the most important muscle in the body… you guessed it the heart! If you absolutely must take these drugs make sure you are taking vitamin D and CoQ10 as supplements.
Much can be done to naturally control the amount and type of cholesterol and the levels of inflammation in the body. Thankfully they are often the same strategies. Include deep sea fatty fish in the diet such as sardines, tuna, mackerel and salmon. Take a good quality fish or krill oil supplement every day. I recommend Metagenics for their potency and purity. Limit the amount of saturated fat in the diet. This is generally the fat from animals other than fish including non-organic dairy and cage eggs.
You can also take herbs which lower the cholesterol and inflammation levels in the body such as Globe artichoke, Cacao, and Fenugreek. The antioxidant vitamins (eg vitamin E) and minerals (eg selenium) will also assist in this area. Anti-cholesterol foods you can incorporate into your every day diet include onions, garlic and turmeric.