Cholesterol, Friend or Foe?
Cholesterol is one of those nutrients that are so highly misunderstood and beat down as being inherently “bad” by many but nothing can be further from the truth!
Cholesterol is a substance synthesised in the liver that is absolutely vital to human life, cholesterol is a necessary nutrient that is almost found exclusively in animal food’s that is carried in the bloodstream and forms part of ALL cell membranes in the human body, all 100+ trillion of them!.
Cholesterol plays a huge structural role in all cells of the human body providing optimal rigidity and stability along with a vast array of other important physiological processes (such as being the precursor molecule for all sex hormones such as the hormones testosterone and oestrogen’s).
Believe it or not, our brains when they are well formed are largely cholesterol and saturated fat.
Cholesterol is critically important for the growing infant’s brain. As a matter of fact, it is so crucial to the infant that without adequate amounts of cholesterol in their diet (unlike adults they cannot synthesise it) they cannot form “efficient” synapses between two neurons (brain cells), they are poorly functioning synapses at best! (Think huge issues with anything that requires cognition/cognitive tasks, such as memory formation…it is highly likely that the infant/child will have learning difficulties and other cognitive difficulties as they age, the brains development will be highly compromised).
It is not just infants and young children that depend on cholesterol for an optimal functioning brain A fully grown adult is also highly dependent on this vital nutrient for synapses formation and thus a healthy highly productive brain:
Some signs of a poorly functioning brain
- Memory loss
- Brain fog
- Depression, Anxiety
- Difficulty learning
- Lack of motivation, drive or passion
- Tire easily working, reading, driving etc
- Poor focus or concentration
- Fatigue in response to certain foods or chemicals
Why run the risk of cholesterol being the issue here?
Before we continue into more “cool stuff” I want to clean something up and let you know that
Cholesterol is not a damn fat! It is not a bad fat as it is not a fat at all, this is incorrect, BUT it is a lipid (it is, in fact, a high molecular weight alcohol), lipids are defined as a class of organic – meaning hydrocarbon containing molecule (carbons and hydrogen’s in its chemical structure) that are hydrophilic and as such hate water/do not mix in water, cholesterol comes under the lipid category but it is not a fat! But it is found in fatty foods ☺ such as vital animal organs and egg yolks!
(SHORT LIST OF FOODS HIGH IN CHOLESTEROL (HEALTHY HIGH CHOLESTEROL FOODS)
- Animal organ meats such as liver meats
- Cod liver oil
- Egg Yolks (something to do with development requiring high cholesterol levels ☺)
- Grass-fed beef
- Grass-fed butter
- Shellfish e.g. Shrimp
Cholesterol-rich foods such as those above, why do these things contain so much cholesterol if it’s so bad, maybe it’s accentually important?
Every one of your 100+ Trillion body cells that make up the human being has a fatty layer that surrounds each and every one of those cells, this cell membrane is called a phospholipid bi-layer and is predominantly made of fatty acids, glycerol, various proteins and CHOLESTEROL.
Why is cholesterol there you may ask?
- Cellular activity, free radicals, oxidative stress and Cell Rigidity
As warm-blooded mammals with highly metabolic active cells including those cells mitochondria (think brain cells and liver cells as an example which have huge energy demands) we need cells that are a little more rigid and have good structural integrity to their cell membranes to whether this high level of cellular activity and the high temperatures/metabolic by-products associated with this activity.
Cholesterol along with Saturated fat provides this “optimal” cell rigidity and structural integrity!
And as such provide the cell membranes stability against possible “damage” from such things as those free radicals and inflammatory activity taking place with general every day to day cell activity (cellular respiration, old cell apoptosis etc) before stacking on any additional insults.
Cells that are too fluid on a membrane level generally due to an abundance of polyunsaturated fats in the diet (seed oils such as sunflower, safflower, canola, soybean, cottonseed etc) and especially combined with a lack of dietary cholesterol are highly susceptible to general every day oxidative stress via the damage of “unstable” polyunsaturated fatty acids as they are so highly unstable making them a highly inflammatory reactive compound which is great at damaging additional cells and initiating further immune/inflammatory activity.
How does cholesterol provide such stability?
- In Hot temperatures (keeps cell membrane phospholipids close to each other), stopping excessive cell fluidity.
- In Very cold temperatures – acts sort of like an anti-freeze stoping cell membrane phospholipids/fatty acids from getting to close to each other and clumping as cells do have an ideal functional size and must have some degree of fluidity to function.
Here is a “small” additional list of why CHOLESTEROL is an epic nutrient and Thou Should Not Be Afraid
- Steroidal hormone backbone and thus needed for synthesis/production
There is a relationship with these cholesterol derived hormones and neurotransmitter receptor binding/receptor function that shows us when hormones become imbalanced ( in this case very low) you lose neurotransmitter activity which affects how you feel, function and views your life.
(This is not going to be a conversation about what oestrogen does in the body as it plays many roles, as the reader I am hoping you have a little background knowledge here!)
As an example, cholesterol is needed for proper function of serotonin receptors in the brain, but as you have also just discovered cholesterol is also the precursor for such hormones as estrogen.
Oestrogen – other than serotonin also impacts dopamine and acetylcholine receptor activity in the brain of a woman.
So what happens when you have low hormone levels combined with already “poor” neurotransmitter receptor function?
As an example, Low serotonin activity has been linked to aggressive and violent behaviour, depression and suicidal tendencies.
Think about the bikini/fitness/physique competitor with very low body fat on minimal calories and on a very low fat diet and thus low cholesterol diet going into and then out of there show/shows, if we have insufficient cholesterol and thus “poor” neurotransmitter activity coupled with low “hormones” this seems to look like the perfect recipe for post contest blues, binge eating, depression, lack of drive/motivation and so on and the pre-contest “lows”, uncontrolled cravings and short temper.
Certainly, the right knowledgeable coach will be able to prevent these issues with the “right” nutritional approaches.
- A major component of lipoproteins such as LDL cholesterol and act’s as an antioxidant and plays a large role in tissue/wound healing systemically, cholesterol is like the firefighter at the fire, you’re going to find him there but don’t mean he started the fire.
- The consideration here is that LDL is rich in Cholesterol and unfortunately cholesterol can be prone to oxidation in a chronically unhealthy malnourished individual who continually beats on their body with nutritional insults and in this case it can now contribute to the damage, but for the most part its protective, don’t mistreat your body it can only handle so much BS for so long.
- So not necessarily the LDL to blame but the inflammatory activity/ROS activity of the client from poor health practices long term.
- Bile synthesis for fat emulsification/digestion/assimilation and fat-soluble vitamin absorption, cholesterol is a backbone once again.
- Vitamin/Hormone D synthesis via the skin, cholesterol is the backbone of vitamin D!
The importance of Vitamin/Hormone D (a very short list!)
- Immunomodulatory (immune system balance)
- Calcium and Phosphate absorption and regulation (strengthening bone)
- Increases activity of tyrosine hydroxylase enzyme (more dopamine) and Choline acetyltransferase enzyme activity (more Acetyl Choline synthesis), WIN WIN
- Increases neural glutathione levels (brain protection)
- Probiotic gut flora Proliferation (better gut health)
- Antiproliferative effect – osteosarcoma, melanoma, colon and breast cancer, apoptosis.
- Reduced chance of cancer
- Other Anti-inflammatory actions.
- Upregulates “Beneficial” gene expression
- Suppressed “Harmful” gene expression
Once again Cholesterol provides cell membrane structure giving it shape/rigidity/strength/optimal fluidity and protects it from free radical attacks and thus plays a large structural role in the entire human body.
The more polyunsaturates we consume and thus become part of our cell membranes the more cholesterol we need to give/maintain structure and maintain the integrity of those cells.
The body can synthesise cholesterol in the liver from carbohydrate (via acetyl CoA molecules) (NOTE: which is a very cofactor/nutrient demanding and thus depletes us of vital nutrients if relied upon) but if we don’t quite make enough and don’t eat very much we are at risk for running short……..
WHAT ABOUT DIETARY CHOLESTEROL?
From the data Dietary cholesterol shows to raise serum cholesterol in healthy normal people whose cholesterol is low and lowers serum cholesterol in hypercholesterolemic whose cholesterol levels are high. In the former group where not enough cholesterol is being manufactured by the body, adding in more dietary cholesterol raises the amounts to more adequate (optimal) levels, in some individuals whose serum cholesterol levels are high; there is some overproduction (liver) that is turned off when dietary cholesterol is consumed.
EAT IT, EAT IT, EAT IT….
Foot Note: this blog is targeted towards the educated PT/Competitor/Individual who is open-minded and has a basic understanding of nutritional physiology, and thus if you are a “coach” who provides nutrition protocols to your clients and cannot grasp and or do not understand the basic information given above, I truly believe until you do, like many others, that you should not be providing “diet plans” for $$ especially for contest prep until you do and in the meantime, find a competent mentor to provide such education.
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