With all the warnings we have gotten used to receiving about cholesterol in the last few decades, do you ever stop and wonder what cholesterol really does? Elevated “bad cholesterol” is one of many risk factors for heart disease IN MEN, but cholesterol is also an essential building block for hormones such as cortisol, estrogen, and testosterone and for bile produced by the liver. I often wonder why people aren’t getting to know more about this miracle molecule! The media’s focus is commonly on the impact of diet, but a host of other factors contribute to high levels of cholesterol. Check these out, and note that LDL cholesterol is what we don’t want elevated – it’s “bad,” while HDL is “good.”
A sedentary lifestyle can contribute to high cholesterol levels. Endurance exercise of moderate intensity has been shown to decrease LDL and to raise HDL - which protects against heart disease - whether or not the exercise reduces body fat. However, moderation is important even when it comes to exercise. Strenuous, long-duration exercise, such as running in a marathon, has actually increased LDL in study participants.
While everybody experiences stress, those who are more affected by stress experience a greater increase in cholesterol over time. A stressful event triggers the production of hormones that cause the liver to produce cholesterol, which helps repair damaged cells. When stress is chronic, cholesterol can become excessively elevated, contributing to heart disease. For those who tend towards a state of distress, relaxing practices such as deep breathing can prevent high cholesterol by modulating stress. It is also important to find ways to express and process emotions to keep stress low.
Sleeping sufficiently is important for healthy cholesterol levels. Research on teenagers has shown that the less people slept during their teenage years, the higher their chance was of developing high cholesterol later in life. Sleep disorders such as sleep apnea are associated with high cholesterol as well as with high blood sugar and obesity. Adults who sleep less than 6 hours have higher levels of LDL and low HDL cholesterol.
Hypothyroidism, a condition in which the thyroid does not produce enough thyroid hormone, causes high levels of bad cholesterol. Even a mildly underactive thyroid lowers the level of HDL and increases LDL. Hormonal changes in women after menopause can also raise LDL cholesterol as estrogen levels decrease. Meanwhile, the protective HDL decreases with menopause. Getting the support you need for balanced hormonal health is a crucial piece in the puzzle of cholesterol and long-term health.
Making vegetables and fruits half of every meal you eat is sure to keep the chances of balanced cholesterol and more importantly, vibrant health, high! The fibre in your veggies carries cholesterol out of the body, while the amazingly complex array of nutrients keeps blood vessels, hormones, muscles and mind in balance.
Remember, if the body is out of balance, it will manufacture its own excess cholesterol in the liver. Don’t make the mistake of excluding cholesterol-containing foods from your diet – we need what these foods have to give.
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