Cholesterol is good for you; it performs so many vital functions in your body.
Inflammation raises your risk of just about every serious disease, including heart attacks and strokes. If you want to look after your health, you’d better keep inflammation at bay!
Each week we see a number of patients who are seeking help for their high cholesterol level. They can quote the cholesterol figure in their last blood test and desperately want to lower it without the use of medication. Many of our patients have tried cholesterol lowering drugs in the past and weren’t happy with the side effects. They are even more worried about the potential long term effects of these drugs on brain function and the nervous system.
I think they should also be worried about having abnormally low levels of cholesterol, which these drugs tend to induce. Several studies have shown that people with slightly higher cholesterol actually live longer than those with low cholesterol (low means less than 181 mg/dL or 4.7 mmol/L).
People with low cholesterol seem to be more prone to cancer and mental health problems.
For years we’ve been told to eat less fat if we want to stay slim and keep our cholesterol level in check. I have a problem with that advice for a few reasons:
- It’s not true. You can lose weight eating quite a lot of fat if you choose healthy fats. A ketogenic diet is an example of this.
- The amount of fat you eat doesn’t have a great bearing on your blood cholesterol level because around 80 percent of the cholesterol that’s in your body was made by your liver. Indeed the more carbohydrate you eat, the higher your cholesterol tends to be. Also the healthier your liver is, the better your cholesterol level will be.
- If you don’t eat much fat, you’ve still got to eat something, so you’re more likely to eat a greater quantity of grains, cereals and carbohydrate rich foods (bread, rice, pasta, breakfast cereals). If you don’t eat much fat you’re also more likely to experience sugar and carbohydrate cravings, thus eating foods that your own liver converts into fat, leading to weight gain and elevated cholesterol. You’re better off just eating the good fats in the first place!
What is inflammation and why should you care?
Inflammation is a bit of a vague term that you’ve probably seen mentioned recently. There are two main types of inflammation: acute inflammation and chronic inflammation.
If you have ever sprained your ankle or suffered a gout attack, you’ll know all about acute inflammation. It causes symptoms like pain, swelling, heat, redness and immobility.
In this article I want to focus on chronic inflammation. This is the type of inflammation that occurs in a very subtle form inside your body, so you don’t even realise it’s occurring.
Chronic inflammation occurs when various cells in your body produce chemicals that cause wear and tear inside your body. Essentially, inflammation causes oxidative damage to the cells and tissues of your body. This will cause you to age more rapidly and put you at risk of serious diseases including cardiovascular disease and cancer. Inflammatory chemicals can be produced by your immune cells, fat cells and by your liver if it is fatty, otherwise diseased or sluggish.
What causes inflammation and how is it relevant to cholesterol?
The following factors all raise the level of inflammation in your body:
- Being overweight
- Lack of sleep
- Deficiency of omega 3 fats in the diet
- Lack of fresh vegetables in the diet
- Food allergy or intolerance
- Diets high in sugar, alcohol, gluten and omega 6 fats
In most people, the overwhelming cause of excessive inflammation in their body is poor diet choices.
Sugar, flour and vegetable oil high in omega 6 fats (soy, corn, cottonseed, sunflower, safflower oil) all cause wear and tear to your body. Having a fatty liver causes the liver to produce high levels of damaging inflammatory chemicals.
Inflammation damages the lining of your arteries. It actually causes wear and tear to the once smooth inner lining of artery walls. Once you’ve developed lesions in your arteries, the cholesterol in your bloodstream comes along and tries to repair this damage.
Cholesterol has a vital role in healing and repair of tissues in your body. The problem is, cholesterol can accumulate in your arteries, causing them to narrow and thus restricting blood flow. Cholesterol is not the initiating factor in artery damage; it is only serving a protective and healing role.
So should you be worried if your cholesterol is elevated?
If your cholesterol is high, you need to find the reason.
As I mentioned, the vast majority of cholesterol in your body was made in your liver. Cholesterol production increases when the body is under stress: emotional stress can cause elevated cholesterol because the stress hormone cortisol is made out of cholesterol. Physical stress on the body can also elevate cholesterol. Because cholesterol helps to repair and heal your body, you will produce more if there is a great deal of inflammation occurring in your body. So all those factors above that raise inflammation, can raise your cholesterol too.
Therefore the cure for elevated cholesterol can be quite simple – lower the inflammation and you’ll also lower the cholesterol.
Other factors that may cause elevated cholesterol include:
- Having an unhealthy liver. Since your liver is the main site of cholesterol production, it makes sense that the health of this vital organ determines how high your cholesterol is and how much of the good cholesterol is in your body. If you have a fatty liver it is vital to do something about it. See the diet guidelines in the book . Taking a good liver tonic like will provide your liver cells with what they need to repair themselves and improve their fat burning abilities.
- An under active thyroid is a very common cause of high cholesterol, especially in women. Your thyroid doesn’t even need to be very under active; quite commonly we see patients who are in the gray zone – their thyroid is not healthy but not bad enough for their doctor to take notice and recommend treatment. We have covered this topic in detail in our book .
- Sugar and all carbohydrate rich foods can raise your cholesterol because your liver turns the carbohydrate into fat. Therefore cutting down or cutting out foods like bread, pasta, rice, breakfast cereals, sugary drinks and any food that contains flour or sugar is a very useful way of keeping your cholesterol in the healthy range. I know it can feel almost impossible to quit eating sugar, especially if your body is accustomed to it and you suffer with unstable blood sugar (hypoglycaemia). That’s when a blood sugar balancing supplement can really help. The herbs Gymnema and bitter melon, as well as the minerals chromium, magnesium and manganese all help to stabilize blood sugar and thereby reduce hunger and cravings. contain these ingredients and are best taken with each meal.
- Too much unhealthy fat. Most vegetable oil is far too high in omega 6 fats which promote inflammation. When these fats are heated (during cooking) they are further damaged and become very harmful to the body. The healthiest fats to include in your diet are avocados, extra virgin olive oil, macadamia nut oil, organic coconut oil, pastured butter and ghee. The last three fats are best for cooking.
We do need some cholesterol in our bodies for good health; you don’t want your cholesterol to be too low but you don’t want it too high either. However, it’s important to remember that high cholesterol is not the cause of your health problems; it is simply a clue that something is not quite right with your health, and it’s likely that the real problem is too much inflammation.
For more information see our book .
The above statements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any disease.