Cholesterol is one of the most persuasive and misunderstood substances of the past twentieth century. It has long been thought that eating foods high in cholesterol increases blood cholesterol levels, which is considered so dangerous that some of the most beneficial foods such as liver and egg yolks have been identified as enemies of our arteries.
But what is cholesterol, what does it serve for the body, and should we really worry about it? You will find the answers in the article.
What is cholesterol and what are its functions in the body?
Cholesterol is a sterol – a combination of steroid and alcohol. It has a waxy texture and looks like fat. It separates the walls of the various cells in the body.
Cholesterol plays an important role in the functioning of cells and is also necessary for the synthesis of vitamin D, bile juice and some hormones – testosterone, cortisol, aldosterone, DHEA, estrogen, and others.
Bad and good cholesterol – LDL, HDL
The two main forms under which cholesterol is found in the body are LDL (low-density lipoprotein) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) HDL. LDL is also known as “bad” cholesterol because, together with triglycerides, it is involved in plaque formation in blood vessels and HDL is known as “good” cholesterol because it counteracts this build-up.
Is cholesterol dangerous in food?
Like most substances in the human body, cholesterol is supplied with both food and endogenous (synthesized in the body by the liver). When we take more foods rich in this compound, our body produces less of it. If we deprive ourselves of foods high in cholesterol – like eggs (egg yolks), cow butter, red meat, and liver – the body increases its production – reverse feedback. The result is that for most people, eating foods high in cholesterol has little effect on blood cholesterol levels.
In 70% of the population, foods rich in cholesterol cause a barely noticeable increase in blood cholesterol levels. In the other 30% of us, these foods lead to an increase in blood cholesterol levels. However, research has never established a direct link between eating high cholesterol-rich foods and the risk of heart disease.
And the elevation of LDL and HDL levels is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, in one to three percent of the population, cholesterol may be a particularly important nutrient.
What is the value of cholesterol?
Controls aggression – One of the functions of serotonin in the central nervous system is the suppression of harmful behavioral impulses. The low amount of cholesterol in the cell membranes decreases the number of serotonin receptors, and since membrane cholesterol is freely replaced by that of serum, reducing the serum cholesterol may contribute to a decrease in serotonin in the brain and less suppression of aggressive behavior. Not surprisingly, the side effects of statins (medicines that reduce internal cholesterol production) are irritability and aggression.
Helps fight cancer – Reverse dependence between cholesterol levels and the risk of various cancers has been known since the late 1980s. Since then, this relationship has been reaffirmed over and over again. Therefore, the use of statins may result in an increased incidence of cancer, which is a fact. When the so-called “bad” LDL-cholesterol is passed to a culture of highly malignant leukemia cells, they lose their resistance to chemotherapy. And this can hardly be called a “bad” impact. So, despite having this nickname, LDL cholesterol has its importance and benefits in the body.
Prevents hemorrhagic stroke – There are two types of stroke: 1) ischemic, associated with a lack of blood and oxygen supply to the brain; and 2) hemorrhage associated with blood vessel breakdown in the brain and bleeding. The risk of the first in theory may be increased in the presence of too much-oxidized cholesterol. However, the risk of the second, hemorrhagic stroke increases when cholesterol levels are low.
Improves memory – Low HDL cholesterol has been identified as a risk factor for the deficiency and decline of middle-age memory. Even in Parkinson’s disease, higher total serum cholesterol concentrations are associated with a slower clinical progression of the disease. Today, the American Food and Drug Administration requires statins that suppress cholesterol production, and therefore strongly affect the brain, to sell with a box warning that they can adversely affect memory.
It is needed for longevity – In a 2011 US study, the length of telomeres – the end portions of chromosomes that prevent DNA damage associated with cell aging – is associated with higher LDL and total cholesterol.
Obesity – a widespread problem nowadays. Obesity leads to several diseases, physical ailments and other problems, including increased cholesterol. For “obesity” we can talk when the body fat index exceeds 30%.
You can calculate it using this calorie calculator.
Lack of physical activity – physical activity stimulates the production of good cholesterol and accordingly – suppresses the harmful effects of the bad.
Improper nutrition – Exaggeration with salt and with food rich in saturated fats (animal products) and trans fats (in fast and processed foods) can also raise bad cholesterol levels. Even nutritious and healthy foods, but rich in cholesterol, can raise it beyond the desired limits. Therefore, it is not good to overdo it with any food.
Smoking – smoking increases the levels of bad cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood and increases the accumulation of fatty deposits on the walls of the blood vessels. This is not enough, but at the same time, it lowers the levels of good HDL cholesterol, which in principle prevents the accumulation of this fatty plaque. Fortunately, studies have shown that after the cessation of cigarettes, good HDL cholesterol levels rise quite rapidly, up to 3 weeks after the last cigarette.
How to improve our condition
In a nutshell – doing so to avoid the risk factors above:
Limit salt, avoid trans fats and take beneficial fats in quantities appropriate to your diet without overdosing.
Maintain regular physical activity and do not let your body accumulate an excess of subcutaneous fat. 60-90 minutes of physical activity per day is a good guide.
And if you have already gained extra pounds – make sure you have a calorie-free diet to burn them and maintain a healthy figure.
Forget about cigarettes, restrict alcohol, especially hard alcohol.
Which foods improve cholesterol?
There are also foods, or more precisely, nutrients in some of them, which will further contribute to the control of cholesterol in the body. Here are some of them:
Olive oil – beneficial fats in olive oil can suppress the negative effects of bad cholesterol in the body while at the same time charging it with energy. So olive oil can become an integral part of the flavor of your dish.
Foods rich in fiber – legumes, leafy vegetables, whole grains, fruits and vegetables … These foods are a great source of water-soluble fiber and significantly reduce bad cholesterol levels in the body.
Foods rich in Omega 3 fatty acids – such as oily fish, flaxseed oil, raw nuts (almonds, cashew nuts, etc.). Omega 3 has a number of beneficial properties for the body, including a proven effect in raising good HDL cholesterol levels.
In the end, is cholesterol dangerous? In large doses, perhaps. In moderate – definitely not. Can we overdo it with food? Yes, but we really have to try to eat a lot of cholesterol-rich food!
Cholesterol is contained in some other very harmful foods like those in fast food chains – all sorts of burgers, fried wings, fries, and so on. That cholesterol in them is not harmful to our health does not make them less dangerous. But if we talk about natural foods rich in cholesterol – like eggs, liver, butter and meat – we can consume them calmly, in moderate amounts.
Besides our diet, we will help the body maintain good cholesterol by providing regular physical activity and favorable living conditions – free from harmful habits and stasis.