October is cholesterol awareness month
Posted on 12th October 2022 at 16:27
Cholesterol isn't just harmful in the body, it performs a range of vital functions of which we all need to be aware, and a high fibre diet is one of the best ways of balancing cholesterol levels.
October is officially cholesterol awareness month, but what exactly is it that we need to be aware of? Mostly we are told that cholesterol is a key cause of the fatty build-up in the arteries (atherosclerosis) that leads to heart disease and that we need to keep levels down at all costs. Cholesterol however performs important functions in the body. It is required for the production of cell membranes, hormones, vitamin D and the bile acids that help to digest fat. Whilst high levels are implicated in heart disease, low levels can increase the risk of dementia, violent and aggressive behaviour, depression, suicide, Parkinson's disease and paradoxically, heart disease as a result of cholesterol sulfate deficiency.
Contrary to popular belief, high cholesterol is not a disease per se but a response to something going awry within the body. Cholesterol is produced whenever cells are damaged as is is a necessary component in replacing damaged cells with healthy new ones. Therefore the more damaged cells you have, the higher your blood cholesterol levels will be. It follows that older people have more cell damage due to natural aging processes and consequently have higher cholesterol levels.
Cell damage produces inflammation and in addition to age, this can be brought on and exacerbated by poor diet - too much sugar, too many processed grains and processed foods generally (including low fat foods and those marketed to lower cholesterol!), lack of exercise, emotional stress, smoking and excess alcohol. Lowering cholesterol levels through artificial means such as statin drugs without addressing the underlying cause, means that the body will continue to degenerate despite blood cholesterol levels being seen to be lowered.
The most effective way to optimise your cholesterol profile, prevent heart disease and maintain good health generally is via diet and exercise. 75% of cholesterol is produced in the liver which itself is influenced by insulin levels. Optimising insulin levels automatically optimises cholesterol levels and reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes as well as heart disease. This is something we can all easily address by decreasing our intake of refined sugar and increasing our fibre intake through the consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables and wholegrains. Fibre provides bulk so excess cholesterol can be excreted via the bowel, and naturally detoxiifies the body. The Diabetes UK website states that the requirement for dietary fibre for adults aged 16 and over is 30g per day but the average adult in the UK consumes only 19g.
Being aware of LDL (bad) cholesterol and HDL (good) cholesterol is all very well but not necessarily pertinent. Knowing that the body needs cholesterol and that we can balance our levels through a diet rich in fibre is altogether much more empowering and should be the focus of our awareness.
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