Apart from “cancer,” there is probably no word more feared in discussions of medical conditions than cholesterol.
Awareness of the purported role of cholesterol as regards heart health has blossomed over the past five decades, and testing for cholesterol levels is admittedly a very big business.
It’s of some interest that the worry about cholesterol is based mostly upon a faulty study done on rabbits way back in 1913 by a pair of Russian scientists. The rabbits were fed high amounts of crystallized cholesterol and saturated fats and they did develop clogged arteries as a result.
However, bear in mind that rabbits generally only eat vegetative matter and cholesterol is an animal product.
Why Do We Even Need Cholesterol?
From all the negative press, it would be normal to think that cholesterol is some sort of unnatural substance created by a vengeful god to kill us. Actually, cholesterol is a vital part of every person on earth, and it performs some very important functions that help to keep us alive and healthy.
- Impulses pass through our brains between cells using what are called “synapses.” Cholesterol is the substance that allows this communication between brain cells to exist.
- Every cell in our body has a membrane around it to protect the integrity of the cell, and cholesterol is part of what forms and maintains this membrane.
- Cholesterol is a building block for most of the hormones in our bodies – everything from the adrenal gland to the production of our sex hormones, estrogen and testosterone, depends upon cholesterol.
- Our digestive systems use bile to help digest the food we eat. Cholesterol is made in the liver, and it is this cholesterol that helps to produce bile.
- Vitamin D is essential to good health, and one of its sources is sunlight. Cholesterol is what allows the body to use Vitamin D, whether it comes from a food, supplement or from the sun.
Because cholesterol is such a necessary substance for the body, the liver actually makes about 1,000 milligrams of cholesterol every day. Some is reabsorbed after use, and the rest is disposed of through normal bodily functions.
Is There a Difference between HDL and LDL?
Any discussion of cholesterol inevitably brings up the two kinds of cholesterol. They are commonly referred to as Good Cholesterol (HDL) and Bad Cholesterol (LDL). Although there is a definite difference between HDL and LDL, the latter should not really be considered to be bad as it has a very important job in the body.
Low density lipoproteins, the infamous LDLs, are what actually deliver cholesterol to your cells and tissues. As we have seen, cholesterol is absolutely vital for life. Although it is still a matter of some discussion in the scientific community, the only clearly identified problem occurs if too much is present. It is the excess LDL, left over after the body has all that it needs, that is thought by some to form arterial plaque.
HDLs, or high density lipoproteins, mop up excess LDLs from tissues and cells. This cholesterol also has the ability to remove plaque from the walls of arteries.
Many foods that fit in very well with a Paleo diet are also good sources of HDLs:
- Leafy greens
- Coconut oil
Those concerned about cholesterol can promote heart health by eating the right foods—ones that can boost the levels of good cholesterol while still allowing LDLs to do their work of nurturing the body.
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