Cholesterol: Good or Bad?

Cholesterol brings to mind such ailments as blocked arteries, heart attacks and strokes. But this is only half the truth, because cholesterol is also a vital substance. It is a cell builder, a precursor of bile acid and many hormones, and is important in the formation of vitamin D.

Cholesterol only occurs in animal foods; plants do not contain cholesterol. Contrary to popular belief, cholesterol is not a fat but a steroid, a water-insoluble substance. However, since cholesterol is commonly referred to as fat, it is discussed here under "dietary fats."

Cholesterol is divided into good HDL cholesterol and bad LDL cholesterol. The cholesterol level in the blood, however, plays a secondary role to the cholesterol value, which is related to food. Food is responsible for about 10 percent of a blood cholesterol level, 90 percent is produced by the body itself.

Influence on blood cholesterol levels:

  • Permanent stress
  • Exposure to toxins
  • Areas of inflammation in the body

An elevated, bad LDL cholesterol is deposited in the vessels and is significantly responsible for the development of cardiovascular diseases and strokes. However, the ratio of total cholesterol to LDL and HDL cholesterol is important. Total cholesterol is said to be less than four times HDL cholesterol. So if a person's HDL is 60 mg/dl, the total cholesterol should have a maximum of 240 mg/dl. If the HDL is only 40 mg/dl, the total cholesterol should not exceed 160 mg/dl.

One HDL molecule can bind four bad LDL molecules and thus serve as protection to blood vessels. As a result, it is less the total cholesterol that is important, but rather the ratio of cholesterol types to each other. Cholesterol does not have only negative impact. It also manages very important tasks in our body.

Cholesterol tasks:

  • Protection of cells against free radicals
  • Shield against cancer
  • Building block for hormones
  • Transport of hormones, in particular cortisol

An elevated cholesterol level does has less to do with the consumption of cholesterol-containing foods such as a breakfast egg, but more with stress. Stress stimulates the release of the hormone cortisol. Cholesterol takes over the transport for cortisol and then the body produces increasing levels of the stress hormone.

Yet our diet can have a positive impact on blood cholesterol levels. Aim to increase the good HDL cholesterol and to reduce the bad LDL cholesterol.

Increase HDL cholesterol with:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids (fish, linseed oil, omega-3 fatty acid capsules)
  • Sport and exercise

Lower LDL cholesterol naturally with:

  • Exercise
  • Oat bran
  • Apples (pectin)
  • Chili
  • Inulin (dietary fiber)
  • Chitosan (present in mushrooms and shellfish)