There have been many recent advances in the role of cholesterol as a risk factor in the development of heart disease. Most of us have learned that LDL cholesterol is “bad” and increases heart disease risk. HDL cholesterol is said to be “good” and have health benefits. I think that it is fair to say that few of us could elaborate upon these benefits. Recent research is now proposing that LDL and HDL cholesterol is not a matter of good or bad. Rather LDL is a type of molecule that delivers cholesterol from the liver to the cells. HDL is a molecule that transports cholesterol back from the cells to the liver.
Once cholesterol is delivered to our cells, it serves many functions. It becomes part of our cell membrane, giving them flexibility so that nutrients can flow easily into cells. Wastes also can flow with ease out of our cells. Cholesterol is used to form bile in the liver, which removes excess cholesterol from the body. Cholesterol helps in the synthesis of Vitamin D and our steroid hormones as well. Cholesterol plays a role in carrying Vitamin E as an anti-oxidant to the damaged arteries, which aids in tissue repair. Normally, collagen does the patchwork. If we do not have adequate levels of collagen in the body, cholesterol is used for arterial repair.
It appears that cholesterol only collects in areas of damaged arteries, which most often are around the heart. These arteries are most vulnerable to damage. From these observations, cholesterol is the result of heart disease, i.e. arterial damage, rather than its cause. Cholesterol is only harmful to the body once it becomes oxidized. The immune system actually works to destroy oxidized cholesterol, which works in our favor. The liver also adapts to our dietary intake of cholesterol. If we are consuming too much, the liver will produce less and if we are consuming too little cholesterol, our bodies will produce more. Typically our bodies produce all of the cholesterol we need. As long as our liver and gall bladder are functioning well, bile will remove excess cholesterol from the body. Fiber in the diet prevents bile from being reabsorbed in the body.
What should we be eating and not eating in relation to cholesterol? Trans-fats and fried foods contain LDL cholesterol and are oxidized when heated during cooking. Other foods containing oxidized cholesterol include barbecued meats, powered milks and powdered eggs, processed meats, and processed dairy. Rather that consuming foods with oxidized cholesterol, consume foods high in anti-oxidants to help counter oxidation. Fresh fruits and vegetables are high in anti-oxidants. Consume different varieties of colors to get a broad range of anti-oxidants that will provide the most health benefit. Foods high in Vitamin C, lysine, and proline will help to maintain healthy collagen levels. Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, bell peppers, and strawberries are especially high in Vitamin C. Meat, turkey, and fish are good sources of lysine. Dairy, eggs, peanuts, beans and legumes also are good sources as well. Egg whites and wheat germ are high in proline.