• Ashlea Hartz, N.C., RYT

Clearing Up Cholesterol Confusion

Cholesterol is essential to the body, it is a basic raw material made by the liver, brain, and almost every cell in the body. Cholesterol is not technically a fat, but a sterol which is a combination of steroid and alcohol. Enzymes convert cholesterol to vitamin D, steroid hormones (including estrogen, progesterone, testosterone and stress hormones), and also bile salts for the digestion and absorption of fats. It is common to see a rise in cholesterol when there is a change or imbalance in hormones, such as during menopause, physical injury, or times of emotional stress.

Helping Us Heal

Most of us associate cholesterol with being "bad" for the body but actually when working properly it's a good thing! Cholesterol is a healing agent, the body produces cholesterol when there is inflammation and the body needs to heal. This means that levels can fluctuate, and tend to rise when there is inflammation or a stress on the body including injury, post surgery, change of seasons, environmental toxins, or major life changes.

There is actually no such thing as “good” or “bad” cholesterol. Cholesterol is a single substance that is fat-soluble, therefore it doesn’t travel well in the watery bloodstream. In order to be transported, cholesterol is encased in protein, which we call lipoproteins. High-Density Lipoproteins (HDL) and Low-Density Lipoproteins work together to help the body heal.

It is only when the LDL is small, dense and oxidized that it becomes problematic and contributes to the process of inflammation instead of extinguishing it.~ Dr. Stephen Sinatra

When exposed to a toxic chemical, pathogen, free radical or inflammatory substance, the body springs into action sending a message to the liver to dispatch LDL (the basic cholesterol that makes hormones and cell membranes) to the damage site. The LDL helps to repair the damage ( you can think of it like a natural band-aid), and when the situation is under control HDL is released to collect the spent LDL and carry it back to the liver. The used LDL is eliminated from the body in the stool. This is why cholesterol skyrockets after surgery or injury, it is essential to help the body repair and grow new cells.

Cholesterol can be problematic when it is oxidized or damaged. When LDL particles are attacked by free-radicals, they become oxidized, resulting in the LDL that is known to damage arterial tissues.

Cholesterol can be damaged by:

  • cigarette smoke

  • high sugar intake

  • excessive physical or emotional stress 

  • trans fats 

  • toxic metals 

  • radiation  

  • the immune’s system’s response to chronic infection

Since only oxidized LDL particles present the greatest risk factor for heart disease, measuring oxidation in fats can help people determine whether their LDL levels are healthy or in need of support. A serum test for lipids peroxidation can be ordered by functional or integrative medicine doctors. It can also be tested in the urine as part of the organic acids panel, the specific marker is 8-Hydroxy-2-deoxyguanosine(8-OHdg). This is probably way more than the average person can understand, working with a holistic nutrition consultant can help you determine what test to ask your doctor about.  "Chronic inflammation is a major predictor of coronary artery disease. Studies show elevated levels of CRP (inflammation) puts you at twice the risk of dying from cardiovascular-related problems as those with high cholesterol." -Dr. Sinatra

Common Causes of Elevated Cholesterol

Thyroid Connection – Low thyroid levels can cause cholesterol, BP, homocysteine, and Lp(a) (Lipoprotein A) to increase. Ask your doctor for a FULL THYROID panel including TSH, T4, Free T4, T3, Reverse T3 and Free T3. General reference ranges are often too wide, when TSH is >3 this could indicate subclinical hypothyroidism. Checking for symptoms of hypothyroidism by using a questionnaire is also an effective way to find underlying thyroid issues.

Estrogen Changes – As estrogen falls with menopause, cholesterol, triglycerides, Lp(a) and inflammatory markers all rise. This is a normal response, cholesterol is a building block for the body to make more estrogen. It is best to have estrogen levels tested via serum, urine or saliva to detect an imbalance.

Blood Sugar Imbalance – Insulin resistance is profoundly inflammatory and damaging to the arteries. It often results in weight gain, especially around the middle, and can result in chronic inflammation, changes in metabolism and hormone imbalances. Dr. Stephen Sinatra considers insulin resistance and diabetes the #1 risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

If you have elevated cholesterol levels and looking for a natural approach to lowering those levels, improving your diet and including exercise is the best way to go. Working closely with a nutrition professional can assure that you have the proper guidance and find a personalized program that is just right for you.

New week we will look at the common cholesterol myths and who you can promote healthy cholesterol levels in you body natural with a health diet and exercise practice.

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