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Checking Out Cholesterol


Cholesterol is a type of fat found in the cell membranes of all body tissues; in fact, it’s used to build cell walls, keeping them supple and healthy, able to absorb nutrients, excrete wastes, and retain structural integrity. Cholesterol is used to make hormones – sex hormones, for example; and to synthesise vitamin D. It is important for brain and nerve function, and the liver converts it into bile acids, which help us digest our food. Without enough of it, skin will flake and peel, and memory won’t function efficiently. Mood, sleep, and digestion may also be affected. So, cholesterol is quite handy stuff to have around!

Most of us, however, are more aware of the symptoms of too much cholesterol than too little. High levels of cholesterol in the blood will cause the wall of the artery to take up large quantities, which can lead to a condition called atheroma (fatty deposits on the artery wall). The pressure in the arteries will increase as the space for the blood to pass through becomes narrower, and blood pressure goes up as a result. If the arteries leading to the heart are affected, the likelihood of a heart attack increases. This unpleasant process happens faster if you smoke. (Tip: don’t smoke…)

So, we need enough cholesterol, a balanced amount, to keep our cell walls healthy and our arteries unblocked.

Cholesterol can be picked up directly from food, but most of it is synthesised in our liver from other fats and carbohydrates. It is unlikely that most people will be eating direct sources of cholesterol, such as liver, kidneys or eggs, in the vast quantities needed to make a difference to cholesterol levels. It is more likely that we are eating large amounts of saturated fats, which are then turned into cholesterol by the liver. The consumption of saturated and trans fats is therefore one dietary factor likely to affect our cholesterol levels.

Another factor is the intake of refined sugar, which can also be turned into cholesterol. Having a high calorie intake is equally unhelpful (unless you have a fast metabolism, do heaps of exercise, or hard physical work), as the extra calories are stored as fats called triglycerides. These can be broken back down to provide energy, but will otherwise contribute to thickening of the arterial walls.

Check your intake of fatty meat, processed meats, and refined sugar.
Check your intake of food in relation to your output of energy – are you taking in more than you are using up?

A review in 2017 noted that people who ate vegetarian diets had significantly lower cholesterol levels than omnivores.1 This is likely to be due to lower intake of saturated fats from meat, and higher intake of soluble fibre, which reduces absorption of cholesterol into the bloodstream. Soluble fibre is present in yummy animal-free foods such as beans, wholegrains, fruit and veggies.

Increase your consumption of beans, oats, green leafy vegetables, apples, oranges, garlic, onions, buckwheat, grapes, leeks, cabbage, bananas, pineapple and ginger.

If you find that you suffer from feelings of fulness and flatulence regularly, try Digestisan drops, which contain extracts of Artichoke, Dandelion, and Boldo.

Digestisan is a traditional herbal medicinal product used for indigestion, sensation of fullness and flatulence associated with over-indulgence in food or drink, or both, exclusively based upon long-standinguse as a traditional remedy.*

The transformation of fats from food

The liver produces a fluid called bile, which helps break down fats from food. After the liver produces bile, it’s stored in the gallbladder and should be released into the small intestine when a signal comes from the stomach to say that food containing fat is arriving soon. Imagine trying to get grease off the dishes without washing up liquid and you’ll have a notion of how the body struggles with fats in the absence of sufficient bile. Signs of this struggle might be feeling nauseous or queasy after eating a fatty meal; erratic bowel function; pale-coloured stools; and bad smelling wind – social disaster!

If you are missing your gallbladder, you won’t be able to break down fats as effectively as if you have that storage vessel for bile. You’ll have to produce sufficient bile ‘on demand’, rather than use premade bile from the stores.

All cholesterol is not equal
Low-density lipoprotein particles (LDL) are seen as ‘bad’ because they take cholesterol to the tissues, where it can build up into artery-clogging plaque. So, you don’t want too much of this type. In the UK, you want to see a figure of under 3 (preferably under 2).
High-density lipoprotein particles (HDL), however, are helpful – they tend to take cholesterol away from the artery walls and back to the liver to be excreted. So, this is a type we like. In the UK, a figure of above 1.5 is best, but over 1 is ok.
Triglycerides are unhelpful if you don’t burn them up as energy. You ideally want to see a figure of less than 2.

Increase your activity levels: a 20-minute walk daily is enough to make a difference.

Helping to balance our cholesterol levels

Globe artichoke has been found to inhibit the manufacture of cholesterol, whilst encouraging its breakdown and reducing its absorption in the gut. Artichoke also increases bile production and its movement into the intestines, thereby improving the way dietary fats are metabolised. One of the reasons that the Mediterranean diet is associated with low levels of heart disease is the inclusion of glorious artichoke dishes. If you don’t want to cook the bristly plant regularly, use an extract as a supplement instead.

Vitamin E can be taken at a dose of 200 IU daily, to help maintain normal blood circulation and heart function.

Garlic has been found helpful for protection against heart disease, by protecting against higher cholesterol amongst other effects.2 Get stinky! Or take a supplement regularly.

Homocysteine, an amino acid, has been shown to contribute to atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries accompanied by the build-up of fatty plaques) and coronary heart disease. Homocysteine levels will be high if vitamin B is lacking in the diet, in which case a vitamin B complex supplement will be useful.

1 Yokoyama Y et al. Nutr Rev. 2017; 75 (9):683-698
2 Varshney, R., & Budoff, M. The Journal of Nutrition 2016; 146 (2): 416S-421S

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Checking Out Cholesterol