You’ve probably been told a thousand times to cut down on your burgers, pizzas or fires. I once showed a doctor friend a cooking video and asked him what he thought. HE replied, “all I see is high cholesterol.”
Now, if you have lots of doctor friends, you probably would have gotten an explanation on this important subject. But, if not, you’d be wondering, “what’s cholesterol anyways and why all the fuss about it?” Well, if you want to know what all the fuss is about, you’ve come to the right place. So, keep reading, and by the end, you’ll understand why you should look out for cholesterol.
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a fat-like substance in the body. Cholesterol is used in building cell membranes, producing hormones, synthesizing vitamin D and helping in digestion by forming bile secretion. Cholesterol is produced in the liver and, along with other fat substances, is transported throughout the body via blood vessels. Cholesterol is transported as part of a protein complex known as a lipoprotein. These lipoproteins contain varying amounts of cholesterol. triglycerides, phospholipids and special proteins known as apoproteins. The proportion of these individual components in the lipoprotein complex determines its classification as low-density or high-density.
While the body may require cholesterol for proper cell functioning and hormone production, excess cholesterol will lead to atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is a condition where excess cholesterol build-up causes plaque formation in the blood vessel. This results in the vessel being clogged, impeding blood flow and resulting in cardiovascular effects. When your arteries wall is blocked, you become prone to heart diseases.
Lipoproteins and Cholesterol Transport
Cholesterol travels through the blood by a protein-fat complex called lipoproteins. We have two primary types of cholesterol; low-density lipoprotein (LDL), which is often referred to as bad cholesterol, and high-density lipoprotein (HDL), often called good cholesterol.
LDL cholesterol is known as dumping cholesterol. The low-density lipoproteins cholesterol (LDL-C) serve as the primary transport system of cholesterol in the circulation, delivering approximately 50-60% cholesterol
to the cells. Sometimes, the LDL cholesterol may dump this fat in the arteries through which it is transported. This results in the build-up of plaque and subsequent blockade of that artery. In contrast, HDL cholesterol carries fat away from the blood vessels towards the liver. The fat is processed and eliminated by the liver. By removing fats, HDL prevents plaque build-up, making it good cholesterol.
Cholesterol also exists in the body as chylomicrons and very-low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (VLDL-C). Chylomicrons are the largest lipoproteins in the body. They consist of about 85% triglycerides found in adipose tissue and diets. Very low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (VLDL-C) consists of about 60-70% of triglycerides.
Recommended Cholesterol Levels
You can measure cholesterol levels in the body through a lipid profile. A typical lipid profile result gives you values for total cholesterol, HDL, LDL, triglyceride and non-HDL cholesterol in the body.
Understanding HDL and LDL levels is pretty straightforward. Non-HDL cholesterol refers to all cholesterol that is not HDL in the body. This includes LDL and VLDL. The non-HDL level is calculated by subtracting your HDL level from your Total cholesterol level. Triglycerides are another type of bad fat in circulation and are also gotten via a lipid profile. The table below lists the required cholesterol levels in the body.
Higher HDL levels and lower TC, LDL, TG, and non-HDL levels are associated with reduced heart disease risk. However, when your non-HDL is high, you are at higher risk of developing heart disease, angina, heart attack and stroke. These symptoms may worsen if you smoke, have diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, or have kidney disease.
|Recommended Cholesterol Levels|
|Total cholesterol||Less than 200 mg/dL|
|LDL||Less than 100 mg/dL
|HDL||Greater than or equal to 60 mg/dL|
|Triglycerides||Less than 150 mg/dL|
Cholesterol is good for the body when taken moderately. However, in high proportions, it poses a serious health risk. Hence the USDA recommends consuming no more than 300 mg of cholesterol a day. To avoid getting your non-HDL cholesterol high, you should avoid excess baked food, snacks, fried food, stick margarine, vegetable shortening, non-dairy coffee creamers and other types of processed food. These foods have high trans-fat content, which causes increased LDL levels in the body. Instead, a diet rich in whole foods like fruits, nuts, seeds, ole grains, fish, skinless chicken, and lean red meat will deliver less trans-fat and protect against cardiovascular risk.
Triglyceride is a type of non-HDL cholesterol that is unhealthy to the body, just like LDL cholesterol. They are gotten from excess sugar and fats in the body. They are converted into energy in the body to fuel your muscle. However, if these muscles are not used, the excess triglycerides are stored as fat in the liver. When there is a high level of these triglycerides in the bloodstream, you are at risk of having heart diseases, stroke and obesity.
High blood triglycerides are caused by genetics, obesity, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, excessive alcohol consumption, a high-fat/carbohydrate diet, hypothyroidism, renal diseases, etc.
|Level of Risk||Triglycerides level ranges|
|Very high risk||>300|
Adjusting your lifestyle is a great way of reducing triglyceride naturally. Weight loss positively affects triglycerides levels significantly. Researches show that for every 5% to 10% weight reduction, triglycerides may be lowered by 20%. This means that engaging in physical activities can help to reduce triglycerides; you can engage in activities like swimming, running, dancing, hiking and other aerobic exercises. Exercise has proven to be very useful in reducing triglycerides significantly.
Reducing Bad Cholesterol in the Body
When your non-HDL cholesterol level is high, you may use lifestyle and dietary measures to adjust it. To reduce your cholesterol level, undertake the following measures in close consultation with your doctor.
- Exercise and weight loss
Obesity is a major risk factor for increased non-HDL cholesterol in the body. Exercising and weight
loss activities lead to an extensive fat breakdown that reduces non-HDL C levels in the blood.
- Eat a healthy diet
Your diet is an important factor in determining your body’s cholesterol level. Therefore, you should limit the amount of saturated and trans fat you consume and eat healthy food like fruits, vegetables and other healthy proteinous food.
- Manage stress
Excessive stress leads to cortisol build-up, which leads to the build-up of LDL-C. Effectively managing will help reduce the LDL build-up, lowering your risk for cardiovascular accidents.
- Avoid/quit smoking
Smoking increases the potential of LDL cholesterol to clog the arteries. It also leads to reduced production of HDL-C. Thus, smoking cessation can reverse these processes, helping to keep you healthy.
Reducing Cholesterol through Plant stanols and sterols
Plant stanols and sterols are also known as phytosterols. They are cholesterol-like compounds naturally found in plant-based foods like vegetable oils, grain products such as bread and cereals, seeds, nuts, legumes, and fruits and vegetables. Plant stanols and sterols can be used to reduce bad cholesterol (non-HDL cholesterol) in the body.
Foods with 2g of plants stanols and sterols every day can help reduce high cholesterol levels. A healthy diet should contain around 200-400mg of sterols and stanols a day to significantly reduce the body’s cholesterol level.
Plant sterols and stanols work by reducing the absorption of cholesterol in the gut, resulting in more cholesterol being lost in the feces. They have a similar chemical structure to cholesterol, making it easier for them to be absorbed in its place. This process helps to lower total cholesterol and non-HDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol) in the blood. However, the effect of plant stanols and sterols varies from person to person depending on their level of cholesterol and how frequently they use plant sterols and stanols.
Reducing Cholesterol through Supplements
Another option that exists for lowering cholesterol levels is via the use of supplements. Cholesterol lowering supplements typically contain natural ingredients that reduce cholesterol absorption, similar to plant stanols. For a list of the best cholesterol supplements, check here
Bodybuilding, weightlifting and cholesterol
The general conception is that cholesterol levels are typically lower amongst athletes and bodybuilders. These persons live a “cholesterol killing” lifestyle by the very nature of their work. To ensure focus and optimal activity, athletes typically eat whole foods, avoid smoking and engage in meditation. As stated here, these activities are shown to reduce the risk of LDL accumulation. The process of physical activity will also cause fat breakdown and
excretion. Basically, the more you work out, the lower your cholesterol levels. The association between exercise and lower cholesterol is scientifically proven.
However, new research has emerged, suggesting that LDL cholesterol is necessary for bulking muscle. In an experiment conducted, participants who had high LDL cholesterol and engaged in a specified workout
regimen showed more impressive muscle gains than those who had low cholesterol and engaged in the same exercise. A possible explanation is that cholesterol has antiinflammatory actions, which makes it essential in muscle tissue repair, thus, a role in muscle bulking.
In light of this research, athletes and bodybuilders are advised to work towards an optimal LDL level rather than getting it too low. In addition, persons taking LDL lowering medications may find it hard to build muscle.
Testosterone and Cholesterol
Testosterone is the male sex hormone and a potent molecule in bodybuilding. Research has shown that testosterone medications may positively affect HDL levels. However, the results of these researches are not consistent. The effect of testosterone on HDL cholesterol levels varies from person to person. However, age and the testosterone medication used are determining factors in these changes. Researches are yet to produce a concrete and definite answer about the relationship between testosterone and cholesterol. Still, the results of their research show that there may be a connection between them. Before using any medication, it is important that you consult your doctor to avoid complications.
Cholesterol may be good or bad depending on how much of it you take and what type is prevalent in your body. Even though LDL cholesterol is tagged as bad, high quantities of it is required for muscle building. However, excessively high amounts may cause heart problems.
Ensure you speak with a doctor or dietician about any cholesterol plans. If you’re looking to reduce your cholesterol levels, eating plant based foods, or using cholesterol lowering supplements is a good way to go.