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Fitness for the body, mind & spirit

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Thoughtful Thursday…4 things you need to know about cholesterol...

Welcome to Thoughtful Thursday. This GreenNote Fitness newsletter mindfully gathers and distills useful information that is supportive to our journey. It is my mission to educate, inspire, and propel you into action that moves you towards your goals and life of purpose. Take control of your journey today.

Cholesterol consultation

Cholesterol. It’s good, it’s bad. Lowering cholesterol is the end all be all. Let’s get those numbers down!! That’s important, right?

After all, there are over 40 million people on drugs to lower cholesterol levels seemingly to help the heart. Interestingly, over half of the people with heart disease don’t have high cholesterol. What if I told you that cholesterol is not the cause of heart disease? What if what we have been lead to believe about cholesterol isn’t true? What should you know about cholesterol?

We are about to explore information about cholesterol not readily talked about. In fact, you probably have never heard some of what you are about read. Warning - this newsletter is jammed packed with information. There is much to be understood about cholesterol, like it is imperative for life to exist. HDL (high-density lipoprotein) and LDL (low-density lipoprotein) are not cholesterol, they are carrier proteins with important jobs like protecting the heart from disease and getting the important chemical cholesterol to every cell in your body. This just scratches the surface on how amazing the human body is and what it will do to protect itself.

I am hopeful that this newsletter will raise your curiosity about your own cholesterol numbers. That cholesterol plays an imperative role in the body and that we are our own stewards in caring for and ensuring that we are thriving and not just surviving. As with all aspects of being well, exercise, nutrition (limiting carbohydrates and other sugars), stress management, sleep quality, connection with others all play important roles.

After reading this newsletter you should know:

  • There is a general misunderstanding of what cholesterol is and what it does

  • Cholesterol is a critical component of cell membranes, serves as a brain antioxidant, and is the raw material from which your body manufactures vitamin D, cortisol, estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone

  • Cholesterol is a repair molecule that works to repair damage

  • All cholesterol is imperative for life to exist

  • Cholesterol is not to blame for cardiovascular disease

  • You should be more concerned about inflammation, not high cholesterol

  • Cholesterol we eat has little to do with the cholesterol we measure in our bloodstream

  • The quality of your cholesterol matters; density and particle size matters

  • HDL (high-density lipoprotein) and LDL (low-density lipoprotein) are not cholesterol

  • HDL - a carrier protein, activates anti-inflammatory pathways and protects the heart from disease

  • LDL - a carrier protein with the important job of carrying the fundamentally important chemical, cholesterol to every cell in the body

Fact #1 - One of the most important nutrients your body needs is cholesterol

The body uses cholesterol as a starting point to make estrogen, testosterone, vitamin D and other vital compounds. Your brain needs cholesterol as it helps to create neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine. Cholesterol is a brain antioxidant, protecting the brain cells from free radicals. Study after study have linked cholesterol to improved attention/concentration, learning, memory, and abstract reasoning.

Fact #2 - Cholesterol does not cause heart disease

Inflammation is what damages arterial walls and contributes to cardiovascular problems. Cholesterol is the repair molecule that comes in and tries to fix the damage. You should be more concerned about inflammation, not high cholesterol.

Dave Asprey explains, "The issue is that LDL (low-density lipoprotein) particles carrying cholesterol are large, and they can get stuck in the tear in your arterial wall. That’s when plaques begin to form. The solution, then, shouldn’t be to decrease your LDL and deprive your body of repair. It should be to get rid of whatever’s tearing holes in the walls of your arteries. LDL is a symptom of an underlying problem, not a cause. The question is, what causes arterial damage in the first place...The chronic inflammation tears up your arteries. Then cholesterol shows up to repair them, gets stuck in the tears, and ends up taking the blame for heart disease. Cholesterol is not the artery-clogging molecule it’s made out to be. It would be more prudent eating an anti-inflammatory diet and keeping your triglycerides low than worrying about your cholesterol."

For a better picture of your risk of Cardiovascular Disease (CVD), get a detailed cardiovascular blood test that measures particle numbers and size and other CVD markers. Read this article for more information and the tests to bring up to your doctor.

Fact #3 - 90% of the cholesterol in your body is produced by your liver and 10% comes directly from your diet

Cholesterol lowering drugs like statins, interact with and trick the liver into not producing cholesterol. Now for the second part. I want to be crystal clear (10% comes directly from your diet.) It doesn’t mean that what we consume does not have an impact on our health - it absolutely does! (Especially in raising your ‘good’ HDL levels.) That is a basic and important understanding. What it does mean is that the cholesterol in food, an egg for example, does not cause cholesterol in the body. Said another way, the cholesterol we eat has little to do with the cholesterol we measure in our bloodstream. Scientific studies show a weak relationship between the amount of cholesterol a person consumes and his or her blood cholesterol levels. Study: Kratz, M., Dietary cholesterol, atherosclerosis and coronary heart disease. Handb Exp Pharmacol, 2005(170): p. 195-213.

Fact #4 - What does matter to your cholesterol levels? Carbohydrates.

In the past, heart disease was negligible and now it’s rampant. What’s changed? We have switched over to a very high carbohydrate nutrition strategy. Newsflash - it isn’t working so well. How your body is producing cholesterol if you have high cholesterol is caused in part by your diet but not directly from your diet. Your liver is producing more cholesterol because of other things you are eating. Like what? Carbohydrates.

When you consume lots of carbohydrates i.e. pasta, cake, cookies, alcohol, chips, dairy (lactose/lactase - it’s a sugar), etc. instead of having all that sugar in your bloodstream from eating a lot of sugar, your body will start to store it in the liver. It fills up your liver which is called liver glycogen.

The issue is that once filled, your body can’t put it back in your bloodstream. It will instead turn that extra sugar into what is called Palmitic Acid (PA). PA gets packaged with cholesterol, other proteins, other fatty acids and creates a molecule, VLDL (very low-dense lipoprotein). By eating all those carbs your body is creating very low-dense lipoprotein which is a bigger problem as these low-dense lipoproteins can get stuck and leads to inflammation. Size and density matter.

What about the HDL? Diet does play an important role in determining a person’s HDL level. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that in comparison with people who’s diets were highest in carbohydrate consumption with those who were on a lower carbohydrate diet, those who ate the least amount of carbohydrates had an HDL that was, on average, 11% higher. That's a good thing!

Phew! That was a lot of information about cholesterol. I tried to give a bigger picture to the complexity while keeping this as short as I could. Understand that there is much much more going on in body. The body is very complex and knows what to do. Like if there is a tear in the arterial wall, it’s going to send in something to repair it. i.e. cholesterol. That damage is coming from inflammation. One way to manage inflammation is reduce the amount of carbohydrates you are consuming. Pull back the curtain and observe how much processed foods and other sugars are part of your current regime.

We are stewards of our health. It’s up to us to ask the right questions and seek answers to find out what will optimize our health. Re-read this newsletter, read the articles I have listed below, Additional Resources, that are written by medical doctors. Work with your doctor on ordering the right tests that will aptly measure your risk for Cardiovascular Disease and work on fixing the root cause.

Additional Resources:

Enjoy your journey,

Lisa Schaffer

You wouldn’t happen to know just one person that would benefit from this information? Please forward it to them!

Did you miss last week’s newsletter on 3 alternatives to soda...?

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