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Cholesterol Confusion Part 1: What is cholesterol, and why is it crucial for our well-being?



What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that is vital in the human body. HDL ("good") and LDL ("bad") are not actually cholesterol - they're the protein shuttles that transport cholesterol to and from various parts of the body (more on these in future posts).


Our body - specifically the liver - makes cholesterol for a variety of important functions, including protection of the blood vessels. That's right - cholesterol is protective.

"Furthermore, cholesterol is the human body's version of duct tape. It travels to areas where there has been arterial damage and patches up lesions. Higher serum levels of cholesterol can serve as a message "something is going on" for which it is needed. Serum cholesterol is simply an indicator, not a diagnosis."
"Cholesterol is no more a cause of heart disease than gray hair is the cause of old age."
- Nora Gedgaudas, Primal Body, Primal Mind

We need cholesterol for some really important things:

  1. Key building block for hormone synthesis - including our sex hormones (estrogen, testosterone, progesterone) and stress hormones (adrenaline, cortisol, DHEA), and vitamin D.

  2. Essential for normal brain function and development - our brain NEEDS cholesterol! 25% of the cholesterol in our bodies is found in the brain

  3. Part of every cell in the body

  4. Helps regulate the body's electrolyte balance

  5. Supports mood by stabilizing neurotransmitters

  6. Helps maintain a healthy immune system

  7. Benefits the gut lining by improving cell membrane integrity and helping to prevent or reduce excessive permeability (leaky gut)

  8. Acts as an antioxidant to protect our cells from free radical damage

OK, but what about when it gets too high?

We don't want cholesterol to be too high or too low. Both can be signs of underlying imbalances, and both can have unwanted consequences depending on what else is going on. More on this later in the series.


If cholesterol does show up high, the cholesterol itself is not the ultimate target. What is causing it to go high? It's probably not what you think.


Coming up in the Cholesterol Confusion Series:

  • Why "good" and "bad" cholesterol are misnomers

  • Why you don't want the "good" to be too high or the "bad" to be too low

  • The deal with eggs and high-cholesterol foods

  • Going beyond food to support healthy cholesterol balance and cardiovascular health


References:

Primal Body, Primal Mind by Nora Gedgaudas

The Paleo Cure by Chris Kresser

Francisco Lopez-Jimenez, M.D., "Cholesterol levels: Can it be too low?"

*Statements here are intended for educational purposes only and are not intended to be construed as medical advice



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