Cholesterol – Facts and Myths
Many people cringe when “cholesterol” is mentioned as it is associated with unpleasant topics such as obesity and disease. But what actually is cholesterol and is it really as harmful as many fear? Who is affected by high cholesterol levels and is it enough to abstain from cholesterol-containing foods in order to protect oneself? You will find answers to all these questions in this short summary on cholesterol.
What is cholesterol and what does “LDL” and “HDL” mean?
Cholesterol is a fat-like substance and can be found in all animal foods. Like fat, it does not dissolve in water and must therefore bind to certain proteins (lipoprotein) in order to be transported in the body via the blood (90% of which consists of water) to the various organs.
The most important and best known lipoproteins in this context are HDL (high-density lipoprotein) and LDL (low-density lipoprotein).
LDL supplies the organs and tissues with cholesterol. Excess LDL cholesterol can bind with white blood cells and deposit on the inner walls, usually the arteries, of blood vessels, leading to arteriosclerosis. If these deposits thicken over time, the blood vessels become increasingly inelastic and constrict. In the worst case, this results in complete vascular occlusion, which can trigger coronary heart disease, stroke or heart attack. This is why there is often talk of “bad” or “evil” cholesterol.
HDL cholesterol has the property of binding excess LDL cholesterol from the blood and transporting it back to the liver, which is why it is also called “good” cholesterol.
Myth 1 Cholesterol is fundamentally harmful
Cholesterol is not fundamentally harmful, in fact, it is essential to life. Cholesterol is a very important component of the human body and performs a variety of tasks in the organism. It is involved . . .
- . . . in the construction of cell walls and tissues
- . . . in the formation of vitamin D
- . . . in the formation of bile acids for fat digestion
- . . . in the production of various hormones (cortisone, estrogen, testosterone)
Myth 2 Only very overweight people have high cholesterol levels
A high cholesterol level is not visible from the outside and does not necessarily depend on body weight. Most sufferers have no symptoms and do not notice their high cholesterol levels, so the disease often goes undetected and untreated. Both obese and normal-weight people may be affected by an increased level of LDL cholesterol.
In addition to body weight, other risk factors such as an unhealthy lifestyle with increased tobacco and alcohol consumption, lack of exercise and poor nutrition, as well as diseases such as high blood pressure or diabetes play a major role.
In addition, there is also a genetically-related metabolic disease known as familial hypercholesterolemia, in which the affected people often have a strongly elevated LDL cholesterol level already at a young age, which greatly increases the risk of developing cardiovascular disease. So even young people can have a heart attack at a very early age.
Myth 3 Eggs and cholesterol-containing foods are bad for cholesterol levels
About two-thirds of the body’s cholesterol is produced in the liver by the body itself. Only one third is ingested through food, of which only about half is actually absorbed by the body.
In healthy people, dietary cholesterol intake has little effect on cholesterol levels because the body can adjust its own production of cholesterol accordingly. Thus, if there is a higher supply of dietary cholesterol, the body’s own production is inhibited.
However, about 20-25% of the population are unable to do so, so that no adjustment of the body’s own cholesterol production takes place, resulting in elevated cholesterol levels in the blood.
This adaptation mechanism can also fail to occur in the case of highly unbalanced nutrition with a high proportion of cholesterol, a lot of saturated fats, few long-chain carbohydrates, such as those found in fruit and highly processed foods, and little fiber. Therefore, it is much more important to develop a healthy and balanced nutrition pattern than to avoid eggs or other cholesterol-containing foods in general. Dietary fats with poor fat quality are considered a major health risk – especially in terms of elevated cholesterol levels.
Saturated fatty acids, such as those found in butter, lard, cream, sausages, meat and cheese, increase cholesterol levels more than the cholesterol in food.Trans fatty acids, which are mainly found in industrially produced foods such as fried foods, pastries, confectionery and convenience foods, also have a negative effect on cholesterol levels, as they increase the “bad” LDL cholesterol and lower the “good” HDL cholesterol.
In order to control cholesterol levels through nutrition, the most suitable diet is one that uses a lot of
- fiber-rich foods such as oats, pulses, apples and vegetables and that inhibits cholesterol intake.
- vegetable oils with high omega-3 fatty acid content such as linseed oil, walnut oil and hemp oil and thus supports the cardiovascular system. However, nuts and seeds are also an ideal supplement.
- green tea. It is rich in cell-protecting antioxidants, but also saponins, which can bind cholesterol and inhibit fat absorption from food.
With the Metabolic Balance nutrition concept and the individual selection of foods, the basis for a healthy cholesterol level is laid. In addition,
- exercise in everyday life
- limiting alcohol and tobacco consumption and
- reducing stress
can have a positive effect on cholesterol levels.
You want to go deeper into the topic? Then read the article written by Silvia Bürkle, nutritionist and co-founder of Metabolic Balance here.