Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance produced primarily in the liver. It is essential to the life of humans and animals; without it, our cells could not repair themselves, we could not maintain proper hormone levels, we could not properly absorb vitamin D from the sun, we could not regulate our salt and water balance, and we could not digest fats. And, oh yes, it also improves memory and boosts levels of serotonin—the chemical that makes us happy.
Cholesterol, far from being the villain it’s said to be, is a vital part of every cell in our bodies.
This waxy fat, produced primarily by the liver, is absolutely crucial for the normal functioning of muscles, nerve cells, and the brain—and it’s also the building block that our bodies use to manufacture many hormones, including the reproductive hormones estrogen and testosterone. How will our muscles, brain cells, and nerves react if they are chronically starved of a chemical that is so necessary for their proper functioning?
For years, popular wisdom has held that having elevated levels of cholesterol in your blood is extremely dangerous, leading to heart attack, stroke, even death. Therefore, it must be lowered by any means necessary. Those means include cutting saturated fat and cholesterol from your diet and taking cholesterol-lowering prescription drugs.
When it comes to the medical profession, high cholesterol automatically means “poor health.”
Well, you should take the time to stop and ask a few simple questions: Isn’t the human body a lot more complex than this simplistic solution implies? Isn’t our heath dependent on more than one single marker, like total cholesterol? And how and why did cholesterol become the villain?
“Cholesterol is essential for our bodies to function and without cholesterol you would die. In fact, the majority of the cholesterol in our blood comes from our own bodies making it. I don’t think a lot of people understand that concept. People mistakenly think they get most of their cholesterol from their food and that’s not true. Cholesterol is used to make hormones like estrogen and testosterone, is transported into the adrenal gland to aid in hormone synthesis, repair nerves, and make bile for fat digestion, it’s a structural component of our cells, it synthesizes vitamin D—it plays such a critical role in our body that we genuinely need it. If our levels of cholesterol are too low, that can play a negative role in our health, too, as a telltale sign of autoimmune disease or even
“Cholesterol is one of the most important molecules in the human body: we would die very quickly without it. It’s involved in the creation of vitamin D and in the formation of many important sex hormones, it’s an integral part of cell membranes, and it’s necessary for the production of bile, which is critical to our ability to emulsify and digest fats.”
– Mark Sisson
“Chemically, the cholesterol in your blood and the cholesterol in the foods you eat are the same thing, since there is only one molecule that would be identified as cholesterol. But that doesn’t mean that most of the cholesterol inside your body is coming from your food. The reason for this is that we have a certain need for cholesterol and we regulate that need for cholesterol fairly tightly. So if
we eat a lot of cholesterol, our bodies make less of it; if we eat less cholesterol, our bodies make more of it. In most people, the majority of cholesterol that is circulating in their blood is made by their own bodies. The amount of cholesterol-containing foods they eat isn’t going to have a big impact on their blood cholesterol levels. It can vary from person to person, but in general the
cholesterol in your diet is never the major determinant of cholesterol levels in the blood or in the body.”
– Dr. Chris Masterjohn
“Only 15 percent of the cholesterol that you consume through diet is absorbed and used by the body; the other 85 percent is excreted. The cholesterol we consume has very little to do with the cholesterol levels in our bloodstream. Cholesterol has some amazing antioxidant properties that can actually help guard you against heart disease. There are many reasons why your cholesterol levels might go up: It could be your body’s response to inflammation. It could be a sign that part of your body is malfunctioning—maybe, for example, your thyroid function is low. Cholesterol is a major line of defense when your immune system comes under attack. So lowering cholesterol levels artificially with drugs could make you more susceptible to germs or bacteria wreaking havoc on your health.”
– Peter Attia, MD, The Straight Dope on Cholesterol
“LDL [low-density lipoprotein] particles serve as your body’s scouts or sentinels, detecting foreign threats like germs. The LDL particle protein is very fragile and very easily oxidized. When it comes in contact with bacterial cell wall components, it quickly becomes oxidized LDL, which doesn’t get taken up by cells that are looking to take in fats. Instead, oxidized LDL gets taken up by the white blood cells, and an appropriate immune response is mounted against the microbe that oxidized the LDL lipoprotein. That’s why high levels of oxidized LDL are associated with a lot of health problems. It means you have a lot of foreign things that shouldn’t be inside you stimulating your immune system.”
– Paul Jaminet