Cholesterol is one of the most well known heart health markers and lowering cholesterol is one of the most Googled phrases heart related phrases in Ireland, Europe and the US.
Recent studies have shown that having low levels of HDL and LDL cholesterol can increase heart disease risk as well as risk of premature birth, depression and anxiety.
While having levels that are too high is associated with increased risk of plaque build up, heart attack and stroke.
Read on if you want to know:
- Why we have cholesterol?
- What causes us to have high cholesterol?
- How do we lower cholesterol?
- The 3 reasons why having low cholesterol Is bad for your health
Why do we have cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a lipoprotein that is used by our body as a building block for hormones, vitamin D and other substances. Cholesterol also helps with protection, insulation and signalling of nerve cells and repair of damaged arteries.
In the liver, cholesterol is converted to bile and bile salts. These bile salts are needed for the absorption vitamins including vitamin A, E and K.
What causes high cholesterol?
There are many reasons why you might have high cholesterol. As it is a building blog of hormones, hormone disruption can be one cause of high cholesterol. This could be anything from thyroid hormones and stress hormones to menopause and insomnia.
Inflammation is the most common cause of high cholesterol. Inflammation can be caused by eating a diet high in processed foods and low in fruit and vegetables. It may also be caused by food allergies and intolerances. Exposure to toxins, nutritional deficiencies, the use of certain kinds of medications, chronic stress, insufficient exercise, insufficient sleep, low grade infections, and gut imbalances can lead to inflammation.
Genetics play a factor. Some people produce more cholesterol and are genetically predisposed to have high cholesterol. As you make more cholesterol and your body cannot get rid of it quickly enough, your cholesterol is more likely to become a problem and develop in plaques which can lead to atherosclerosis, heart attacks and strokes.
One way this happens is through poor liver function. Your liver is capable of producing the cholesterol your body needs. It is also responsible for breaking down cholesterol and keeping it regulated. If through genetics, diet, alcohol consumption, medications or toxin exposure, your liver starts to under function you will most likely have high cholesterol.
How do I lower my cholesterol?
The medical guidelines say that diet and lifestyle changes are the preferred method. Most GPs will recommend their patients to try these first before prescribing medication.
When you work with me, I start by understanding the root cause of your high cholesterol,so that we can create a plan to make appropriate changes to your diet and lifestyle to balance your cholesterol levels.
How can having low cholesterol be bad?
There is more than one type of cholesterol. When you get your blood test results and are told that your cholesterol is high and told your number, this number is generally a combination of LDL and HDL cholesterol.
LDL cholesterol is considered to be ‘bad’ and HDL is considered to be ‘good’. It is in realty a lot more complex and individual than this as both types have the potential to be bad. However current advice is to keep your total cholesterol levels or TC at or below 5 (mmol/L) with LDL at 3 or less and HDL at 1 or more.
So how is having low cholesterol bad?
3 ways low cholesterol is bad for your health
- A recent study has shown that having low HDL cholesterol increases your risk of heart disease and other illnesses. HDL cholesterol is used to gather up and remove LDL cholesterol from the blood so having too little can contribute to LDL build up. Even as a stand alone marker when LDL is at a good level, having low (less than 1mmol/L)HDL cholesterol can still increase your risk of a cardiovascular event.
- Although rare, having levels of LDL cholesterol that are too low can increase your risk of a bleeding stroke. Research has also found that having low levels of LDL cholesterol can lead to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.
- The cholesterol lowering drugs known as statins block the production of cholesterol but also block the production of CoEnzymeQ10 (Co-Q-10). This is needed by your body for many reasons including heart health. Now I’m not suggesting you stop taking your medication, but I do strongly suggest that you supplement with Co-Q-10 or ubiquinol to combat this side effect.
Everything in nature has an opposite, so just like there are people out there that have genetically higher cholesterol, others produce low levels of cholesterol. For some, low levels may occur due to medications such as statins combined with inappropriate supplements, and dietary changes.
It is important to remember that cholesterol does play an important role in our bodies and we should work to achieve the recommended levels of HDL and LDL.
Achieving a balanced cholesterol is key to not just your heart health but your overall health. Finding out the root cause behind your high or low levels of different types of cholesterol allows you to make changes that impact your health for the better.
If you have a family history of high cholesterol or heart disease it is worth testing for oxidation of your cholesterol as this is a more accurate measure of your heart health than the total number alone.
It is also important to remember that cholesterol is just one measure of heart health. A large scale study published in 2009 found that 75% of heart attack sufferers did not have cholesterol levels that were considered ‘at risk’ so it is definitely not the only marker to keep watch on. Homocysteine, liver function and nutrient levels also tell us more about your heart health.
If you are ready to make sustainable changes to your diet and lifestyle to improve your heart health or
balance your cholesterol, get in touch or visit the heart health programme page for more details.