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Cholesterol & Heart Health

Cholesterol & Heart Health

by Zoe Kay Nutritionist MSc BSc www.leanrevolution.co.uk

The information I will share with you here is cutting edge and up to date. I have no ulterior motive other than to maximise your health. I have no affiliations with any supplement or pharmaceutical companies and I get my information through independent research and experience.

The big ‘cholesterol con’ as it has been named started about 60 years ago when dietary guidelines changed dramatically. One of the reasons for this recommendation in dietary transition to a low fat and high carbohydrate diet outside of political reasons, was the discovery of fat and cholesterol in the arteries of heart disease post mortems. This was of cause a correlative factor, not a causative relationship. By assuming that cholesterol and fat causes heart disease because it was seen in the arteries of those with heart disease, it was the equivalent of saying "because every time my phone rings I’m in the bathroom, it must be that by phone rings because I’m in the bathroom”. Confusing correlations with causation is something that research has frequently done over the years and has led to unhelpful advice reaching the masses. Worse than this, we are terrible at admitting we have made a mistake and would rather continue rather than make changes; therefore change is slow although it is now starting.

What Do We Know About Heart Disease?

·         Genetic factors – these don’t predict heart disease but they can affect how the body functions. If we know about these then we can often do our best to compensate for them with tailored support.

·         We know that at the root of heart disease, like all chronic disease, is inflammation. Inflammation is caused by immune reactions due to allergens or injury to the body, and due to dietary or functional imbalances that reduce the body’s ability to control inflammatory reactions.

·         The process of heart disease starts with injury to a vessel or artery. The injury attracts immune cells and cholesterol to help it heal. Cholesterol acts like a healing plaster. If the rate of injury is high then a lot of immune cells, cholesterol and inflammatory reactions occur at the site of injury to try to plaster over the damage.

·         Eventually we can end up with injured sites that are so filled with cells that the vessel or artery wall is thickened and so there is less space for the blood to pass through. The body can try to compensate by increasing blood pressure, but in the long term this can cause pieces of the ‘plasters’ to fall off and lodge elsewhere which can cause blockages and lead to a heart attack.

·         This is why continuously raised blood pressure can be an increased risk of heart attack, as it suggests there may be narrowing of the artery.

·         You can now see that the real cause of heart disease is damage to the cardiovascular system.

·         The fact that damage to the artery or vessel encourages cholesterol to be raised in the blood so it can be used as a ‘plaster’ for damaged sites means that raised blood cholesterol may be a risk factor for heart disease; but let’s get some things straight about cholesterol before we shoot the messenger.

Cholesterol:

·         Made by all animal cells because it is an essential structural component of all cell membranes that is required to maintain cell health. Your body is made up of cells. 

·         It is made in the liver, housed in the gall bladder until it is needed.

·         It is used to make the steroid hormones (cortisol, progesterone, oestrogen and testosterone).

·         It is used to make the bile acids that your gall bladder secretes to help you digest fats.

·         It is used to make Vitamin D, an essential hormone in its own right important for mood, hormone balance, bone health, immune, and gut function.

·         It is what makes up the majority if the brain’s structure.

·         It is essential to repair parts of the nerves that make up our central nervous system.

·         Cholesterol inside foods is poorly absorbed. The body also compensates for any absorption of additional cholesterol by reducing cholesterol synthesis, so avoiding dietary cholesterol is unhelpful.

·         The body uses both fats and carbohydrates to make cholesterol, so going on a low fat diet is often unhelpful as carbohydrates are eaten in greater quantities instead.

·         If your gut does not function as it should (reflux, discomfort) then the gall bladder can become sluggish and this makes it harder for the body to balance cholesterol levels.

Cholesterol; So What Is Relevant in Heart Disease?

·         Cholesterol is transported through the blood on protein transporters (lipoproteins).

·         Some protein transporters have the reputation of being ‘good’ or ‘bad’.

·         Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) has a bad reputation because it delivers cholesterol to cells.

·         High-density lipoprotein (HDL) has a good reputation because it takes cholesterol back to the liver.

·         This is an oversimplification and there are other factors that can be much more troublesome which are not looked at on standard blood tests.

·         LDL and HDL can be different sizes, if it is very small then there is a greater chance of it getting stuck in damaged sites and casing problems. The particle size is of great importance.

How to Reduce Damage to the Arteries

·         Look after your gut. If your gut health is reduced then its reduced integrity can mean damaging products can enter the blood and cause inflammation in the body. Food allergens and bacterial imbalances may be investigated and specific liver and gall bladder support may be recommended.

·         Balance your blood sugar – sugar is highly inflammatory, a high fat low carb diet is often useful.

·         Have a colourful diet from plants rich in of protective and anti-inflammatory antioxidants.