Source: The Blue Diamond Gallery
Watch your cholesterol levels!
Avoid high cholesterol foods!
Lower your cholesterol or risk getting heart disease!
If these are the things that come to your mind when you hear the word “cholesterol,” you’re not alone. The whole world has been taught for decades that cholesterol is bad and it should be avoided at all cost.
That concept, however, is now being challenged and the tide has changed.
In recent years, research studies on how cholesterol levels affect the body have been surprising the medical world. Even renowned publications like Time Magazine – who helped advocate the dangers of cholesterol by running an article about it in 1984 – are now re-educating people about the way how they view cholesterol. In 2014, Time Magazine ran a cover entitled “Eat Butter” and published an article pointing to how researchers in the past got cholesterol all wrong. As it turns out, cholesterol isn’t the evil bringer of death as we have been led to believe. In fact, it’s a necessity if you want to live healthily.
What is cholesterol?
Now, before you start pointing to the hundreds – if not, thousands – of research studies done and used in the past that high cholesterol levels are the cause of a host of diseases and health conditions, it’s first important to take a closer, unbiased look at cholesterol.
Cholesterol is an organic molecule that has a waxy texture that’s very close to soft candle wax. Much of the cholesterol in our body is manufactured by our liver.
Benefits of cholesterol
Form and maintain healthy cells
About 30% of our cell membranes are made of cholesterol, making this a vital component in keeping our cell membranes healthy and fluid. Cholesterol also helps maintain the integrity of our cells by helping them adjust to changes in our body temperature.
Hormones are our body’s chemical messengers. Different organs and glands in our body release them so that it can function properly. Many chronic diseases are caused by the body not producing enough of a particular hormone. Hypothyroidism, for example, is due to the thyroid gland not producing enough thyroid hormones while diabetes results from the body not producing enough insulin hormones.
Cholesterol is one of the components our body needs to produce these essential hormones. It’s also required for the production of steroid hormones in our body. These steroid hormones help regulate our body’s metabolism, fight inflammation, and ensure that our body’s salt and water content is balanced.
Our body needs about 800mg of cholesterol for the liver to produce the right amount of bile acid it needs to help in digestion of the fat we consume in our food. Bile acid also helps the body absorb fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K) so that it can be used by the body. It also helps regulate a number of bacteria flora within our small intestine and biliary tract, and prevent them from getting infected.
Promotes healthy neurological functions
Our brain is the most cholesterol-rich organ in the body, and for a good reason. It needs cholesterol to produce serotonin, which is responsible for carrying signals from the brain to the different parts of your body. Cholesterol is also crucial for the brain to perform other functions like learning and forming memories.
Produce Vitamin D
You’ve probably been taught in school that the morning sun is a good source of vitamin D, right? Well, that’s only partly right.
In reality, the rays your body absorbs from basking in the morning sun helps the body convert the cholesterol in your body into vitamin D, which is one of the essential vitamins our body needs for healthy bones.
Bad Cholesterol vs. Good Cholesterol
With all these benefits cholesterol gives to our bodies, the question you’re probably asking is, why are doctors saying that high cholesterol levels are bad?
The problem lies in the fact that doctors aren’t very particular when they recommend lowering your cholesterol levels to live a healthier lifestyle.
You see, not all types of cholesterol are created equally. There are actually two different kinds of cholesterol in your body: good cholesterol and bad cholesterol.
Low-Density Level (LDL) cholesterol is, sadly, the one that’s mainly responsible for cholesterol getting a bad reputation. This is the bad cholesterol that doctors tell you to lower or better yet, avoid like the plague.
As its name suggests, LDL cholesterol is lighter in weight because there it contains more cholesterol than proteins. When it comes in contact with oxygen, it oxidizes which, in turn, causes the lipids to accumulate along the walls of your blood vessels, making them even smaller. Over time, these blood vessels can get blocked, resulting in a heart attack or stroke.
The other type of cholesterol in the body is called High-Density Level (HDL) cholesterol. This is the right kind of cholesterol and the kind that your body needs to function properly.
HDL cholesterol is the complete opposite of bad cholesterol because it’s got more protein than cholesterol in them. This ratio makes it possible for HDL cholesterol to quickly bind with the LDL cholesterol in your blood vessels, de-clogging your blood vessels. HDL cholesterol then brings them back to the liver to be processed so that they can be eliminated by the body. At the same time, HDL cholesterol also helps protect LDL cholesterol from free radical damage, which can make them more lethal.
3 ways to increase your HDL cholesterol levels
- Exercise regularly
Studies have shown that getting setting aside 30 minutes a day to do some type of cardio workout like walking, jogging or swimming 5 times a week can help increase your body’s HDL cholesterol levels by as much as 5%.
- Quit smoking
If you’re still on the fence about kicking the smoking habit for good, this might just do the trick. Aside from all the other health benefits you’ve been told you’ll get when you quit smoking, you can also help increase your body’s HDL cholesterol levels up to 10%.
- Go for the healthy fats
Margarine, baked goods, fried foods and refined carbohydrates contain trans fat or hydrogenated fat. These are the primary sources of LDL cholesterol. Choose foods that contain monosaturated or polyunsaturated fats like olive oil and avocados as well as foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids. These are the ones that are rich in the good HDL cholesterol your body needs.
Cholesterol, in itself, is not bad. In fact, our body needs to maintain healthy cholesterol levels to function properly. It’s the type of cholesterol that spells out all the difference. Keep your HDL cholesterol up and your LDL cholesterol levels down is the way to go.