Do You Know Nutrition: Cholesterol - Good, bad and ugly

By Phylis Canion
Aug. 6, 2013 at 3:06 a.m.

I have been diligent in changing my eating habits to help lower my cholesterol naturally because I am unable to take the prescribed medications that my physician has recommended. Is high cholesterol just as bad as low cholesterol?

Let me begin by explaining cholesterol and the role it plays in our body. Cholesterol is a lipid, waxy, fat-like substance that is produced by the liver and other cells and found in certain foods from animals like dairy, eggs and meats.

The body needs cholesterol in order to function properly. Its cell walls and membranes need cholesterol in order to produce hormones, vitamin D and the bile acids that help digest fat.

Cholesterol levels are a measure of all of the cholesterol in the blood, including LDL (bad cholesterol) and HDL (good cholesterol). Cholesterol is actually recycled in the system. The liver excretes it via bile into the digestive tract with about 50 percent of the excreted cholesterol being reabsorbed by the small intestine back into the bloodstream.

Our bodies can make too much cholesterol when we eat too much saturated fats, resulting in excess cholesterol that can clog our blood vessels and increase the risk for health problems. On the other hand, cholesterol levels that are too low can also have risk factors.

According to the Mayo Clinic's Dr. Thomas Behrenbeck, having a low level of total cholesterol or low levels of low-density lipoproteins could increase your risk of some health problems. Low levels of cholesterol may increase your risk of cancer, depression, memory loss, stroke, depression and anxiety.

Also, new studies suggest that low cholesterol might pose unexpected problems for the nervous system because cholesterol is vital to neurological function. In a study published in "Movement Disorders" online researchers analyzed data from a long-term study and reported that individuals with low LDL cholesterol were significantly more likely to develop Parkinson's.

Another study, published in Neurology magazine Aug. 11, 1999, uncovered a link between low cholesterol and Alzheimer's disease.

Abnormally low levels of cholesterol may indicate hyperthyroidism, liver disease, malabsorption, malnutrition and inadequate absorption of nutrients from the intestines, according to a website on cholesterol testing from the Discovery Health Channel.

Remember, your body needs cholesterol for daily functioning.

Thought for the week: Mosquitos remind me that we are not as high up on the food chain as we think.

Next free nutrition class is 7 p.m. Monday at Organic Emporium.

Phylis B. Canion is a doctor of naturopathic medicine and is a certified nutritional consultant. Email her at This column is for nutritional information only and is not intended to treat, diagnose or cure.



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