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If I could wave a magic wand, I’d banish forever the idea that cholesterol clogs your arteries, causing heart disease or strokes. Because it doesn’t. And truthfully, there are amazing benefits of cholesterol that have been lost among the inaccurate information.
I know. You get the results of your tests and dread talking with your doctor about your cholesterol levels. Maybe your LDL cholesterol (called bad cholesterol) is a little on the high side. Or your HDL levels (called good cholesterol) are low.
Perhaps your doctor has told you your lipids and triglyceride levels are such you’ll need to take statin drugs, even though their trivial benefits are offset by high costs and can actually raise your risk factor for some diseases including Parkinson's and cancer.
But here’s the thing:
For decades we’ve been fed a diet of alarming information about cholesterol that turns out to be...made up.
LDL cholesterol, a villain? Not so.
High cholesterol levels, one of the worst health risks you can incur? Almost a guarantee for heart disease?
I don’t want to delve into the whys and wherefores of how this misinformation came to be, then caught on like wildfire; that’s another story for another day.
But I do want to set the record straight.
Cholesterol, far from being a frightening demon, has amazing benefits.
Let me explain.
In this article:
- You Need Cholesterol For Your Health
- The Essential Elements Your Body Can’t Make Without Cholesterol
- Cholesterol And Your Immune System
- Your Gut Loves Fatty Acids
- Can Cholesterol Help You Feel Happy?
- Maybe This Is Too Good To Be True
You Need Cholesterol For Your Health
Your body makes 2,000 mg of cholesterol every day. A lot of your cells make it. If it’s so bad for you, why does your body make so much of it? Why doesn’t that high cholesterol level you naturally produce create a problem?
One reason this high cholesterol level isn’t a problem is that one of cholesterol’s roles is to heal. Yes, cholesterol helps to heal wounds in your heart caused by, for example, excess sugar or stress. It acts as a bandage over the wound. Unfortunately, this contributes to the illusion that cholesterol clogs your arteries and results in heart attacks or strokes. But just because cholesterol is found at the crime scene, doesn’t mean it’s the criminal.
Telling someone that cholesterol is the cause of plaque in their arteries is like telling someone that white blood cells are the cause of their infection. It’s not; infection attracts the white blood cells to fight it.
Interestingly, cholesterol isn’t actually fat. It’s a type of alcohol that’s essential for the normal function of all of your cells and is a fundamental component of your cell membranes.
As well, the cholesterol measured in your blood - LDL, and HDL - isn't really cholesterol. The L in HDL and LDL stands for lipoproteins. Lipoproteins carry cholesterol via the blood plasma to all the cells and tissues in your body. Think of them as boats ferrying many cholesterol passengers around.
The Essential Elements Your Body Can’t Make Without Cholesterol
One purpose of cholesterol is to make hormones: stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, for example, along with sex hormones such as estrogen and testosterone. Hormones are powerful signal molecules that regulate a variety of your body’s functions to help ensure its smooth functioning.
And there’s a reciprocal relationship: the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol also trigger the production of cholesterol in your liver to provide your body with energy and repair damaged cells.
Cholesterol also helps you make vitamin D, which can:
- keep your bones healthy
- improve cardiovascular function
- keep your lungs and airways healthy
- boost muscle function
- your body fight infections
- protect against cancer
And, without cholesterol, your body can’t make enough bile - the detergent-like substance that lets your body break down the fats you eat and absorb the nutrients from it.
Cholesterol And Your Immune System
Here’s an interesting fact. Cholesterol supports your immune system. There are studies which link higher cholesterol levels with reduced risk of infection. In one study over a 15-year period, people with higher initial levels of total cholesterol were found to be less likely to be admitted to a hospital with an infectious disease
Your Gut Loves Fatty Acids
Your digestive system loves the fatty acid called butyrate or butyric acid, which is found in high cholesterol food like butter. Butyric acid is the main food for the beneficial microbes in your gut; they love it! Give yourself a big digestive boost with cholesterol-rich food such as eggs, cheese, and full-fat yogurt.
But wait, there’s more!
Can Cholesterol Help You Feel Happy?
You may have heard of serotonin. It’s a neurotransmitter that contributes to you feeling happy.
Serotonin is popularly known as the body's natural "feel-good" chemical because it's involved in your sense of well-being. (Conversely, when your serotonin level is low, you could experience depression.)
But this happy chemical doesn’t happen by magic. Serotonin needs cholesterol to work properly in your body and for you to experience its benefits.
Maybe This Is Too Good To Be True
You must be wondering if these many benefits are too good to be true.
After all, for years you’ve been faithfully watching your diet so as not to eat food too high in fat. The experts told you cholesterol will put you at risk for early death.
As much as you love butter, bacon, and eggs, or a plate of cheeses, you swore off them ages ago, hoping your sacrifice would result in a longer life.
But now you’ve discovered you don’t have to deprive yourself because these favorite foods are actually healthy for you. Time to rejoice!
Because the bottom line is this: consuming cholesterol doesn’t cause heart disease nor does it increase your cholesterol.
You don’t have to be afraid of it anymore.
You know that magic wand I mentioned?
I’d wave it again and make cholesterol scare tactics become relics of a bygone era