This is a guest post written by Sara Kirkham the author of The Essential Guide to Cholesterol.
For over fifty years, dietary recommendations to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) have focused on reducing saturated fat intake, with additional recommendations to also limit dietary cholesterol intake. Despite this, 160,000 people die from heart and circulatory disease in the UK every year (HeartUK.org, 2018), and more recent research suggests that there is no connection between the intake of saturated fat and heart disease.
However, it is estimated that replacing 5% of energy from saturated fatty acids with polyunsaturated fatty acids reduces the risk of developing CVD by 10%, and research suggests that a 1mmol/L reduction in LDL cholesterol could decrease the risk of death from cardiovascular disease by as much as 28% (British Nutrition Foundation, 2018). Whilst your doctor is most likely to prescribe statins to lower cholesterol, this medication can cause side effects such as muscular aches and pains, so it’s worth taking control of your own health and making other changes that can really affect your cholesterol metabolism – and improve your overall health at the same time.
Although cholesterol does play a role in increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease, it is not because of the amount of cholesterol you eat, nor related to the amount of cholesterol circulating in your blood stream. It is linked to the role that oxidised cholesterol and certain types of lipoproteins appear to play in the development of cardiovascular disease, and increasing amounts of evidence point to causative factors other than the fats that we eat and the amount of cholesterol in your blood.
Cholesterol is a type of fat found in animals and humans. It is one of the types of blood lipid (fat) that circulates in our blood stream – the other type is called triglycerides. If you have a high level of lipids in your blood – known as hyperlipidemia – this can increase your risk of having a heart attack or stroke, and you are likely to have been prescribed statins and/or other medications to reduce your risk of cardiovascular ‘events’. However, although we tend to think of cholesterol as a harmful substance, we do need it for good health, and low levels of cholesterol can be just as unhealthy as too much.
The cholesterol in our bloodstream comes from two sources, the cholesterol we consume when we eat foods such as egg yolks, dairy produce or shellfish (also called exogenous or dietary cholesterol), and the cholesterol that our body makes. The cholesterol in our diet only provides approximately 20 – 30% of our body’s cholesterol – we make the rest ourselves in the liver and intestines. The liver makes approximately ten times the amount of cholesterol that is recommended as a dietary intake, so the amount of cholesterol consumed has been shown to have little effect upon blood cholesterol levels in most people. If you eat more cholesterol-rich foods, your liver should make less to balance out the total amount of cholesterol within the body, and if you follow a low cholesterol diet, your liver should make enough cholesterol for your bodily needs. The consumption of saturated fat and trans fats have a much larger impact on raising ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol levels than the intake of dietary cholesterol, although the impact of dietary saturated fat upon our health is being questioned by current research.
Some of the cholesterol made in the liver is excreted in bile, which is squirted into the intestines during digestion, and may be either absorbed back into the body, or excreted in the faeces. So this is one way that you can help to lower cholesterol levels by increasing the amount of cholesterol that is not reabsorbed, and increasing the amount of cholesterol that is excreted from the body. Functional foods such as Benecol and Flora Active spreads contain phytosterols, which are plant molecules that compete for absorption with cholesterol in the gut, and have been proven to successfully lower cholesterol levels by up to 15%. However, you can do this yourself with a range of different foods, and even increase the level of cholesterol excretion further through phytosterol and fibre supplements. However, because it is only oxidized cholesterol that contributes to cardiovascular disease, another element of nutritional therapy for healthy cholesterol metabolism is to ensure that there are adequate levels of antioxidants in the diet to limit oxidative damage.
Cholesterol – The Essential Guide provides the facts about cholesterol and its role in cardiovascular disease, and explains how different foods, lifestyle interventions (such as stress and exercise) and medications affect your cholesterol metabolism. A wealth of practical, simple tips enabling you to adapt your diet and lifestyle will help you to improve and manage your cholesterol levels and reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, as well as a review of natural supplement options to help manage cholesterol metabolism and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Discover the ground-breaking truth about cholesterol – find out the real causes of cardiovascular disease and dysfunctional cholesterol metabolism – and discover what you can do to help yourself.
Sara Kirkham BSc. (Hons) Nutritional Medicine – author of Cholesterol – The Essential Guide available from Need2Know Books.