Cholesterol: what’s the fuss?


Cholesterol is a waxy substance, made in the liver and essential for the continuing health of every single cell in the human body. We need it, says Fiona Flaherty, a registered nurse and nutritional therapist 

The body makes around 80% of our cholesterol. The remaining 20% comes from food. Functions of cholesterol include the manufacture of hormones and bile salts to break down dietary fats, plus a transporter for Vitamin D. 

The body self-regulates the amount of cholesterol needed. If cholesterol consumption is too high, the liver cuts back on manufacture, unless the liver is damaged. But if inflammation is present in the body, then it produces more as a protective mechanism. Therefore, results from a blood sample showing a higher total cholesterol means you have excess inflammation in the body. 

So, what do the numbers means? Firstly, lipoproteins. These are like boats that take cholesterol from the liver to the tissues and back again to the liver to be reused. Cholesterol is like a family in which there are four players: HDL (high density lipoproteins), LDL (low density lipoproteins), triglycerides (additional energy stores) and VLDL (very low density lipoproteins). Each has a unique value, and total cholesterol is just that: the total of all the numbers added up. If elevated, it causes imbalances in the body.

HDL is rarely elevated. But when LDL becomes elevated and oxidises (like rust), it damages blood vessels and blood is more likely to clot, causing even more inflammation in the body. The liver responds by making more cholesterol in an attempt to repair the damage. Elevated cholesterol markers are associated with conditions including cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

The current treatment in the UK is prescribed statins. They set the body back to zero and stop cholesterol being made in the liver. This initially lowers the LDL and triglycerides and may, coincidentally, raise HDL levels, as well. However, having no cholesterol in the body may account for early cell death, possible hair loss, muscle aches, low exercise tolerance, fatigue and reduced libido in adults. So, what can we do? The body needs to be rebalanced. We need to eliminate ‘triggers’ in our diet to reduce overall inflammation. Simple steps to help manage cholesterol levels include: 

Increase antioxidants with fruit and vegetables. Excess cholesterol binds to the fibres and is evacuated out of the bowels. 

Drink about two litres of water a day to keep your blood flowing efficiently. 

Exercise aerobically for 20 minutes every day to increase HDL and decrease LDL. 

Avoid or limit BBQs, smoked, burnt, deep-fried and shop-bought fried foods as these are inflammatory.

Fiona Flaherty is a registered nurse and nutritional therapist based in South Woodford and Harley Street. For more information, call 07973 601 862 or visit meducatehealthcare.com