Although most people do what they can to keep their cholesterol levels as low as possible, many are not aware that cholesterol actually plays an important role in healthy functioning. Without cholesterol, our body’s cells would be at a serious disadvantage. Cholesterol builds and maintains cell walls and is important in regulating their permeability, allowing nutrients in and keeping toxins out. Effective communication between the nerves is due to the presence of cholesterol, and it is also needed for the production of hormones and to maintain a healthy immune system.
How Is Cholesterol Produced?
Contrary to what most people believe, even if you get very little cholesterol through your diet, your levels may still be high, as it’s the liver that produces most of the cholesterol in our body. Cholesterol in itself is not the problem, rather it is an indication that there is something wrong somewhere in the body. To understand this, we have to look at how cholesterol works.
When you have your cholesterol measured you will get two measurements: HDL and LDL. You want to avoid high levels of what is called "bad" cholesterol (LDL or Low Density Lipoprotein), as it is an indicator that there is some sort of problem. You want higher levels of what is considered "good" cholesterol (HDL or High Density Lipoprotein), as it indicates that cholesterol is on its way out of the body because it is not needed. HDL and LDL are merely the vehicles for cholesterol, they are not cholesterol itself. LDL’s job is to transport cholesterol from the liver to wherever the body may need it. This is usually in response to damage of some sort. On the other hand, HDL returns cholesterol to the liver once the body is finished with it so that it can be removed from the body.
In effect, if your LDL level is high, it is an indication that some kind of damage to the body, such as inflammation, that requires cholesterol to repair it. If your HDL level is higher, it is an indicator that there is no damage so cholesterol is not necessary. Taking cholesterol-lowering drugs such as statins does not deal with the root cause of the problem. In fact, it can exacerbate it. It’s like covering up the red warning light on your car that tells you something is wrong with the engine. Covering up the warning light or disconnecting it will not take away the problem, it will just leave you one day stranded in a broken-down car by the side of the road.
You want your cholesterol numbers to fall naturally as a consequence of removing what caused the high cholesterol in the first place. The best ways to do this are through a modification of your diet and by getting regular exercise. Following are a few examples of ways to lower your cholesterol naturally without the use of drugs.
Remove hydrogenated oils and trans fats from your diet – These are the kinds of fat that have been shown to cause coronary heart disease and raise your cholesterol levels most. While it is a good idea to eat more mono- and polyunsaturated fats, you do not need to avoid all saturated fats and foods that are high in cholesterol such as meat and eggs, particularly if they are organic, as they are a good source of CLA, a fatty acid known to reduce cholesterol. Eat more healthy fats such as olive oil, virgin coconut oil (which lowers levels of LDL cholesterol), avocados, nuts and seeds.
Eat more omega-3 fatty acids – These can be found in fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, herring, mackerel and tuna and can lower inflammation far better than statins without the nasty side effects.
Avoid refined and processed foods – Chock full of refined flour, sugar, unhealthy fats and chemicals, processed foods are one of the main culprits in today’s skyrocketing rates of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Increase your intake of "real" food – High-fiber foods such as whole grains and oatmeal are useful in helping to lower levels of cholesterol. One of the primary reasons that people who live in the Mediterranean region have such low levels of heart disease is that they regularly cook whole, fresh foods and include large amounts of vegetables, fruit, olive oil and red wine in moderation (which lowers cholesterol as well) in their diet.
Exercise – Stepping away from the desk or sofa and getting moving is one of the top things that will help lower cholesterol. This does not mean that you have to suddenly become athletic. Just taking a short bike ride or walking between 30 minutes and an hour each day can significantly reduce your cholesterol.