We’re told to avoid cholesterol at all costs—or suffer the consequences: cardiovascular disease, increased risk of a stroke, and/or other complications. However, I recently came across some information that made this self-healther wonder about these warnings. And since September is National Cholesterol Education Month, I think we should ask ourselves the question: Is high cholesterol truly as scary as we think it is?
In doing some studying for the Nutritional Clinical Assistant (NCA) program, I read the book Back to the Basics of Human Health by Mary Frost. In her section about cholesterol, she points out two facts that made me go hmmm…interesting.
First, of all the cholesterol in the human body, only 7 percent exists in the bloodstream. The other 93 is located in our cells. That’s right, every cell in the human body requires cholesterol to function properly.
Second, Frost explains where all that cholesterol comes from. While many of us might assume we get it from the foods we eat, the majority of it—80 percent—is produced by the human body itself, mainly by the liver. Now, this isn’t only in times of dis-ease, when the body isn’t functioning properly. In fact, our bodies produce cholesterol to keep us in a state of optimal health.
This made me pause, and I became a bit suspicious of the hype that high cholesterol is scary. It makes zero sense that the human body, on a daily basis, produces a substance that is detrimental to its own continued existence. Your body is constantly working to keep you alive. It’s pretty smart that way.
And what about that 93 percent of cholesterol that’s located in our cells? Is there a purpose for it being there? The opening paragraph of Judith A. DeCava’s book Cholesterol: Facts and Fantasies puts it all into perspective:
Boy, no medical professional has ever told me this during a checkup. DeCava goes on to clarify the following facts:
- Cholesterol forms 50 percent of the nervous system, and the brain requires it for proper growth and development since it serves as a conductor of nerve impulses.
- Cholesterol forms the membranes for your cells that regulate the flow of nutrients into them and waste products out.
- Cholesterol is responsible for heart muscle contractions; proper levels are needed for both liver function and calcium metabolism.
- Cholesterol forms the building blocks of hormone production for the adrenal, sex, and pituitary glands.
- Cholesterol is needed by the skin to convert sunlight into vitamin D and provide a barrier that keeps unwanted fluids from entering.
- Cholesterol aids in the digestion of complex food fats, and we need it to absorb the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, F, and K.
I don’t know about you, but I’d find it a whole lot scarier if my body didn’t have the proper amount of cholesterol to support all of these functions. Right? So what gives? What affects our blood cholesterol levels? And what leads to a high cholesterol label after an annual blood draw?
The main factor that affects cholesterol levels is diet, which also determines the healthy function of our organs, glands, and systems. People with low thyroid function will more than likely have elevated cholesterol levels. Same goes for kidney disease, gallbladder issues, diabetes, and hepatitis.
DeCava points out that cholesterol levels vary throughout the day, and they can even depend on the season (often being higher during colder months). Cholesterol levels can also be affected by mental stress, chronic pain, going through a fearful experience, working too much, and not exercising enough. Nicotine, alcohol, and other drugs (including medications) also impact cholesterol levels. Heck, even being pregnant can impact the results of cholesterol blood work.
To me, all of this suggests that the body adjusts cholesterol levels as a protection of sorts. Always striving for balance based on our experiences and lifestyle choices. It also seems as if getting your annual blood draw at the wrong time—say, at the end of the year, when it’s reporting time at work and you’re stressed out and it’s freezing cold and gray outside—could land you with less than desirable results.
That being said, it stands to reason many of our daily choices can make cholesterol a whole lot less scary. You can dig deeper for information with ease here at SRP because we talk about them all of the time:
- Read Dr. Royal Lee’s “High Blood Cholesterol and Its Control.” This 1956 article explains that eating a diet of unrefined foods, especially unrefined fats, plays a major role in maintaining healthy cholesterol levels.
- Check out my blog posts on learning how to take control of your stress levels and adopting your #1 exercise.
- And, of course, quit smoking and limit your alcohol intake.
Don’t be scared about health concerns—educate yourself and ask questions about what you discover.