| Food & Diet

Benefits of Cholesterol - The Cholesterol Collusion

By Tyler Woodward

Cholesterol  when hearing or reading this word, people often have negative connotations associated with it. Cholesterol gets a bad rep, but cholesterol isn’t the bad guy. The body needs cholesterol to function and it's critical for your overall health and longevity. 

Contrary to what you’ve been led to believe, Cholesterol DOES NOT cause heart disease. In fact, maintaining normal cholesterol levels may actually be important for health & longevity.

Let’s dive into what Cholesterol really is, what Cholesterol does for the body, and how to optimize your Cholesterol levels in support of balanced health and well-being.

Contents:

What Is Cholesterol?:

cholesterol structure

Cholesterol is a sterol, or an insoluble, waxy lipid,  basically meaning it’s a type of fat that doesn’t dissolve in water, like your blood. Which is why when referring to Cholesterol, most people are actually referring to the Cholesterol-transporting proteins LDL (low density lipoprotein) and HDL (high density lipoprotein).  LDL and HDL are responsible for transporting cholesterol throughout the body. Together LDL cholesterol + HDL cholesterol make up your total cholesterol levels.

Most people know cholesterol for its association with causing atherosclerosis or heart disease. While cholesterol gets a bad rep, it actually supports numerous functions within the body and plays an integral role in maintaining your health. 

Cholesterol Supported Functions:

  • Regulates the “fluidity” of the cellular and mitochondrial membrane 
  • Supports cell growth & reproduction
  • Aids in the activation of genes
  • Produces steroid hormones, (estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, ect,) vitamin D and bile acids (needed to digest fat)

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Both LDL and HDL cholesterol are essential in supporting healthy functions within the body. 

LDL transports cholesterol throughout the body where it’s absorbed into cells and used as a building block to build cell membranes, produce hormones, among other functions. 

HDL transports cholesterol to the liver where it is excreted from the body. HDL cholesterol is broken down into bile acids which are transported to the intestines and gallbladder during the digestion process. Only about 1-2% of these bile salts (broken down cholesterol) are lost daily through excretion as feces. 

The amount of cholesterol excreted by the body as bile is replaced by new cholesterol formed in the liver or consumed through your diet in order to keep your cholesterol levels balanced. For most people, the more cholesterol you consume in your diet, the less cholesterol your body produces.

In a small subset of the population, dietary cholesterol levels increase with cholesterol consumption, but even in this population it’s been found, repeatedly, to not have an impact on increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease. In fact this clinical review stated, “existing epidemiological data have clearly demonstrated that dietary cholesterol is not correlated with increased risk for CHD” (coronary heart disease).

Overall,  your cholesterol levels largely remain constant regardless of your dietary cholesterol intake.

Why Does Cholesterol Have Such A Bad Rep?

Cholesterol has become the primary suspect for causing heart disease, but in reality it’s more like the victim. High levels of LDL cholesterol (relative to HDL) have been repeatedly associated with heart disease, but whether cholesterol is actually causing this is highly debated. 

Cholesterol only causes problems when there is a build-up of too much cholesterol in the bloodstream. But as you now know the cholesterol you consume in your diet does not significantly affect your serum (blood) cholesterol levels.  

In reality the cause of high cholesterol has been time and time again linked to hypothyroidism or an underactive metabolism.  Basically, your body is producing cholesterol at a rate faster than it's able to use it, resulting in the buildup of cholesterol in the bloodstream. More often than not, it’s not just cholesterol that builds up in the blood, but also other fats (serum lipids/triglycerides), hemoglobin, and glucose.  

While cholesterol takes the blame, It’s not the cholesterol’s fault! It’s your body’s inability to use the cholesterol and get into the cells and out of the blood, creating a traffic jam-like-effect in your blood. 

In fact, this 2018 research analysis is literally titled, “LDL-C does not cause cardiovascular disease: a comprehensive review of the current literature”.

Read More: The Nonessential, "Essential" Fatty Acids

Cholesterol & Your Body:

Cholesterol Heart Disease

 

Despite conventional wisdom deeming cholesterol as the enemy, cholesterol is extremely important in the body. Cholesterol is the precursor to all of the steroid hormones in the body including: testosterone, estrogen, progesterone and even vitamin D! Cholesterol is also used for bile synthesis, which is a necessary compound used in digestion and the absorption of fats and fat-soluble vitamins.

Believe it or not,  every cell in the body (except red blood cells) produces cholesterol themselves, the liver and dietary cholesterol only account for a small portion of our total cholesterol production. The importance of cholesterol is often overlooked, so it may come as a surprise that having low LDL-cholesterol and total cholesterol may actually be detrimental:

The biggest irony of them all is that according to Dr. Ray Peat, in healthy people, cholesterol can actually serve as a protective molecule aiding in digestion, detoxification, and the removal of free radicals from the body.  

Learn More: 10 Signs of Low Testosterone | Hypogonadism

Optimizing Your Cholesterol: 

what is cholesterol

Lastly, it’s worth noting that cholesterol on its own is a poor measure of health. It’s a single metric or number in the grand scheme of your body’s health. There are many other metrics that should be taken along with cholesterol levels to see this “bigger picture” including:

  • Fasted triglycerides (fat cells) level
  • Albumin (transporter protein) Levels
  • Fasted blood glucose/sugar levels
  • HbA1c (glcylated hemoglobin)
  • Full-panel thyroid hormone (T4, T3 & TSH) levels
  • Testosterone Levels (Free, Bound/SHBG levels, total)
  • Lactate levels (levels of lactic acid in your blood)
  • Body Fat % 

Cholesterol levels are a clue in the bigger picture and you shouldn’t treat them as the determining factor for heart health. If you want to solve your health mystery, make sure to gather all your clues before assigning blame to one culprit.  

Cholesterol Key Takeaways:

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Disclaimer - This is not medical advice and is only for education purposes. It is always recommended to seek medical advice from a certified medical professional.

Conclusion:

My goal in writing this article, as always, is to provide you with logically-based principles that you can use to form your own conclusions regarding any information you may come across within this subject. Remember, I am not a doctor or medical professional. I just look at the science and put it into layman’s term, so anyone can understand it and are able to make more educated decisions on these topics as a result. I really hope you found this article interesting and if you have anything to add to this article, or any comments or criticism, feel free to reach out to me on our facebook groups (The Thermo Diet Community Group, The UMZU Community Group) or on Instagram @tylerwoodward_fit. Also, please feel free to share this article with anyone that might be interested.

Thanks for reading!

Until next time… be good

~Tyler Woodward