A lot of nutrition advice makes it seem like cholesterol is bad. The truth is cholesterol is crucial for overall health and function. It only becomes a problem when you also have other risk factors for cardiovascular disease such as: inflammation, excessive blood clotting, diabetes and more.
Functions of Cholesterol
Cholesterol serves many roles in our body and cannot be replaced. Here are just a few important roles of cholesterol:
- Critical component of cell membranes: helps cell signaling, fluidity of cells, protection of cells 
- Precursor to all steroid hormones: testosterone, progesterone, pregnenolone, estrogens (estrone & estradiol), aldosterone and more
- Brain health: 25% of the body’s cholesterol is in the brain . It covers nerve axons, contributes to brain maturation , and plays a role in sleep , learning and memory .
- Precursor to vitamin D 
Cholesterol and Dietary Recommendations
Until recently, dietary recommendations around the world emphasized the importance of reducing cholesterol. In the past the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology proposed an upper daily limit on dietary cholesterol, without conclusive evidence . The reason I bring up the American associations first is that these ones are recognized globally. Many nations follow their recommendations and a lot of media and general knowledge is picked up passively by the more publicized American associations and news outlets.
After decades of the old guidelines, in 2015, new American guidelines were introduced. The emphasis for heart health shifted from avoiding cholesterol to limiting sugar intake. The advisory panels stated “available evidence shows no appreciable relationship between consumption of dietary cholesterol and serum (blood) cholesterol. Cholesterol is not a nutrient of concern for overconsumption” .
Doctors had long assessed heart health based on cholesterol, particularly LDL (what they deem to be ‘bad’ cholesterol). These new guidelines advise doctors to assess other factors and “physicians now have to shift their thinking away from only looking at cholesterol levels” .
Cholesterol plays important roles in our body. The dietary recommendations of the past have recently been updated and now attribute blame in cardiovascular disease to sugar, not cholesterol. It can still be confusing when it comes to changing your diet. You still need to eat low inflammatory diets, and learn which foods are best for heart health. Talk to your naturopath or nutritionist about these specific details.
Interested in learning more?
Read on in our series of articles on Heart Health!
About the Author - Dr. Johann de Chickera
Dr. Johann is a licensed naturopathic doctor and co-owner of Absolute Health and Wellness. He completed his 4-year degree at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine (CCNM). His clinical focus lies in chronic disease, such as those related to the Gastrointestinal, Endocrine, and Immune Systems.
His approach to medicine relies on working with the patient to come up with a feasible, multi-factorial approach that addresses all complaints at once. He employs a strong background in diagnostic medicine and human physiology and pathology to diagnose and treat. His treatment involve a combination of nutritional counselling, botanical medicine, eastern medicine (acupuncture), nutraceutical supplementation and hands on physical medicine.
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