Breaking cholesterol myths

Think of cholesterol and most people think of grease, fat, clogged arteries and high blood pressure.

Cholesterol has been made the scapegoat of many illnesses of late according to our sensationalist media.
For it to exist in our body, it must do some good.
So why does it exist?
  • it provides structure to our cell wall. If cholesterol didn't exist, we would probably dehydrate to death on a hot day! The amount of cholesterol used in the wall will depend on our diet.
  • it is a major ingredient of our stress hormones (eg adrenaline) and other hormones in the body.
  • vitamin D is manufactured from it
  • cholesterol is secreted by the skin to protect us from wear and tear and unwanted organisms.
So how does cholesterol potentially build up in our blood vessels?
The body is the ultimate recycler. It never likes to waste anything.
If the cholesterol levels in the blood are too high, the body will store it in the middle of the cells for future use. If this storage facility is insufficient, it will use the walls of the blood vessels.
It is this build up of fat which leads to atherosclerosis (hardening of blood vessels). This makes the area the blood has to pass through much smaller, thereby increasing blood pressure. Should this continue, it could eventually lead to clots, strokes and heart problems.
We are not seeing the whole picture
Many scientists now argue that the cholesterol problem is not merely caused by us increasing our cholesterol rich foods (mainly animal products) but deficiencies in the body's cofactors which metabolise (break down) the cholesterol.
They have shown that diets high in cholesterol have not necessary led to high blood cholesterol or atherosclerosis if these cofactors (vitamins and minerals) and soluable and insoluable fibre exist in sufficient quantities.

These cofactors are: vitamin B3, vitamin C, calcium, copper, zinc, chromium
The key issue however, is not just ensuring that our diets are rich in these vitamins and minerals, but also that our digestive systems are working properly to absorb them. For example, stress often depletes zinc levels very quickly and affects the absorption rate of our intestines.
Several other factors exacerbate the situation -
  • Stress and dehydration lead to the production of cholesterol.
  • Refined sugar increases the production of adrenaline/(stress hormone) by 400%, which in turn increases cholesterol production. Since these refined foods are low in vitamins and minerals, often the body has to use its own stores of vitamins and minerals to break down the foods, reducing the vitamin and minerals available to metabolise cholesterol.
  • Refined sugar produces a bi-product called acetates when it is broken down by the body for fuel. If this waste product is produced faster than it can be burned then it is converted to cholesterol.
  • Low levels of unsaturated fats results in low levels of cholesterol being used by the cells, increasing blood cholesterol.
  • Fibre allows the body to excrete cholesterol as bile salts. If fibre is low, then as the stools pass through the colon, the bile salts (and hence cholesterol) is reabsorbed by the body.

Other factors which help reduce cholesterol levels in the blood -

  • increasing water consumption to 2.5L per day to reduce dehydration. Dr Batmanghelidj in his research showed that relaxation techniques (such as reflexology) combined with water and walking (one hour twice a week) has a profound impact on cholesterol.
  • increasing fibre and unsaturated fats
  • reducing the consumption of animal products and refined sugars
  • reducing stress and anxiety

Using a combined approach with reflexology, dietary and lifestyle changes targets cholesterol in a powerful way.

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