What exactly is cholesterol? What role does it play in the body? And is it as bad for our health as we've been led to believe? In this post, we'll answer these questions and take a look at some common misconceptions surrounding cholesterol.
What Is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a waxy molecule found in the blood. It is made by the liver and is also present in foods such as eggs, meat, fish, and dairy.
Cholesterol is found in every cell in the body, and is essential for overall health and wellbeing. It has an important role to play in maintaining cell membranes and is needed for brain and immune function. Cholesterol also aids in the production of vital hormones and helps the liver create bile acids to digest food.
Types of Cholesterol
It's important to recognize that there are two main types of cholesterol: LDL and HDL cholesterol.
LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, also referred to as "bad cholesterol", carries cholesterol from the liver into the bloodstream. It is comprised of fats and proteins and can potentially contribute to atherogenesis, a process in which fatty deposits accumulate in the arteries.
HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, also known as "good cholesterol", carries cholesterol in the bloodstream back to the liver to be broken down. HDL cholesterol removes LDL cholesterol from the bloodstream and protects against atherogenesis.
Although LDL cholesterol is generally thought of as "bad" and HDL cholesterol is considered "good", the real story is a little more complicated. The most important point to understand is that there are actually two types of LDL cholesterol: one large and fluffy, the other small and dense.
Only oxidized (damaged) cholesterol is toxic to the arteries. The large and fluffy type of LDL cholesterol rarely becomes oxidized and is thought to protect arterial health. The small and dense type of LDL cholesterol is the harmful variety that's more likely to become oxidized and contribute to atherogenesis.
Common Misconceptions About Cholesterol
Now we've covered the basics of what cholesterol is and its role in the body, let's take a look at some of the most common misconceptions surrounding the molecule.
Cholesterol Is the Main Cause of Heart Disease
According to Jonny Bowden, PhD., CNS., and Stephen Sinatra, MD., FACN., authors of The Great Cholesterol Myth, inflammation is the primary cause of heart disease.
The process begins when tiny injuries in the lining of the arteries become inflamed. Oxidized molecules of the small and dense type of LDL cholesterol then combine with other substances and become trapped at the site of the injury.
The buildup of cholesterol and other substances increases inflammation and oxidative damage. When this happens, plaque accumulates in the arteries and heart disease can develop. This means that, in the words of the authors:
"Only oxidized, small-particle LDL cholesterol is a problem, and it’s only a problem when there’s inflammation."
Diet Is the Driving Force Behind Cholesterol Levels
The majority of cholesterol in the bloodstream is produced by the liver. In fact, according to Harvard Medical School:
"Cholesterol production is so important that your liver and intestines make about 80% of the cholesterol you need to stay healthy. Only about 20% comes from the foods you eat."
Dietary cholesterol is poorly absorbed in the gut. This means that most of the cholesterol in food does not enter the bloodstream. Plasma cholesterol is mostly synthesized by the liver and other body cells. This explains why low-cholesterol and fat dieting cannot reduce cholesterol levels.
Coconut Oil Increases Good Cholesterol and the Good type of LDL Cholesterol
The large type of LDL cholesterol – the type that coconut oil increases – is actually beneficial to health. As we mentioned earlier, it is only the smaller, denser type of LDL cholesterol that threatens heart health. Coconut oil actually reduces the smaller type of LDL cholesterol, lowering the risk of heart disease.
In addition, coconut oil raises HDL cholesterol, the good cholesterol that reduces the risk of heart disease. Studies also show that coconut oil improves the overall cholesterol ratio (total cholesterol/HDL cholesterol).
Primarily, it is lauric acid that increases the good HDL cholesterol in the blood to help improve cholesterol ratio levels. Coconut oil lowers cholesterol by promoting its conversion to pregnenolone, a molecule that's a precursor to many of the hormones our bodies need. Coconut can also help restore normal thyroid function. When the thyroid does not function optimally, it can contribute to higher levels of bad cholesterol.
In order to enjoy the health benefits of coconut oil, always remember to choose a high quality, therapeutic-grade oil such as CocoTherapy coconut oil. Our oil is sourced from our USDA-certified organic family farm in the Philippines, and carefully manufactured in our own facility.
We’ve been producing therapeutic virgin coconut oil for over 3 generations, and we know from experience that consuming organic CocoTherapy virgin coconut oil is perfectly safe as part of a balanced diet. Neither our pets nor us have experienced the adverse effects of high cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, or heart disease.