What is Cholesterol? – Cholesterol Benefits
What Does Cholesterol Do In The Body?
I am sure we have all heard about lowering cholesterol, but why is there a concern about doing so? What does cholesterol do in the body? Is cholesterol bad? We need to gain a clearer understanding of cholesterol’s role in the body. Our bodies make its own cholesterol because cholesterol is a building block for healthy living. Cholesterol supports several processes in the body and is essential, so don’t hate cholesterol. The problem occurs when we have too much “bad” cholesterol in the body.
Cholesterol’s Role In The Body
Cholesterol is primarily made by the liver, but almost all of the cells in the body can make cholesterol. Cholesterol is an essential component of cells and is required to build and maintain cell membranes. The body doesn’t leave it up to food we eat to get its needed cholesterol, and it can produce up to 1,000 mg of cholesterol a day to cover all of its needs.
Along with maintaining cell membranes, cholesterol is also needed for making vitamin D, hormones, and bile acids for digesting fats and other substances in the intestine. Cholesterol is a waxy steroid fat, from which steroid hormones are made. Cholesterol is transported throughout the body through the bloodstream, by packaging it and other fats with protein into protein covered molecules called lipoproteins.
Without this protein layer the oil-based cholesterol would turn int globs of cholesterol in the water based blood. The concern with lowering cholesterol levels or maintaining good cholesterol levels revolves around two types of lipo proteins, low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and high-density lipoproteins (HDL).
So-Called Bad Cholesterol – Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL)
LDL cholesterol contains more fat and less protein, and is transported throughout the body to wherever the cholesterol is needed. This is a good thing because the cholesterol is essential for healthy living. LDL gets a bad rap because when there is too much LDL in the bloodstream LDL deposits cholesterol into the arteries which can block up arteries and cause heart disease.
The Good Cholesterol – High Density Lipoprotein
HDL cholesterol has more protein and less fat and is considered the good cholesterol because it acts like a vacuum cleaner, travelling around to cells picking up unneeded cholesterol. The HDL then takes the cholesterol back to the liver, where the liver uses it to make bile or the liver recycles the cholesterol.
The desirable total cholesterol level less than 200 mg/dL reduces the risk of heart disease, between 200-239 mg/dL is borderline high risk, and 240 and above puts a person at twice the risk for heart disease than someone whose total cholesterol is below 200 mg/dL. The American Heart Association indicates HDL levels for men should be higher than 40 mg/dL and for women higher than 50 mg/dL, and HDL levels lower than this are associated with and increased risk of heart disease. Optimal LDL levels are listed as less than 100 mg/dL.
Since the body makes its own cholesterol, we don’t need to eat foods that contain cholesterol. Eating foods that contain cholesterol will raise our cholesterol level. Foods derived from animals contain cholesterol: meat, dairy, and eggs. Plant life (vegetables, fruits, nuts, grains) does not contain cholesterol. Eating cholesterol is not the only way to raise your cholesterol level though. Eating fats can raise your cholesterol level also because the body will use fats to make cholesterol.
My Cholesterol Levels
I personally think that issue with fat is not the fat from plant life, but it the fat from the hormone laden, chemically processed meat and foods we eat. Fats from plant life are mixed with a variety of nutrients and fiber that help regulate how fast it is digested. Processed meats have a high content of fat and are laced with chemicals that are foreign and harmful to the body. Fiber is also removed from processed foods and both present unnatural substances and unbalanced nutrients to the body.
I eat a lot nuts, coconut oil, and sometimes chocolate and they all have a high fat content. I also eat a high carb diet, but the thing is they are all plant based life. Since turning vegan my tests show that my total cholesterol in the lower end of the acceptable range. Removing processed meat and dairy from my diet and eating a plant based diet is protecting my health.
Different sources list the lowest the LDL show be is 60mg/dL, some say 70mg/dL, and some say higher. This low level is a curious thing to me, since the body makes its own cholesterol and will manufacture all the cholesterol needed. I like this Harvard publication that lists my LDL level in the range our my hunter-gatherer ancestors.