With the holidays upon us, it is a good time to take a look at cholesterol, a fatty and waxy substance in our bodies that serves an essential and vital function – yet which can also be injurious when its levels get too high.
There are many excesses to which many succumb during the holiday season which can result – sooner or later – in an unhealthy spike in cholesterol levels.
But, again, cholesterol is important and essential for good health.
Problems only start happening when there is too much of it.
A considerable portion of our bodies is made from cholesterol. Surrounding
every one of the approximately 10 trillion (10,000,000,000,000) cells in the
human body is a membrane that contains cholesterol. Our brains, which are 60 percent fat, contain more cholesterol than any other organ – with the cholesterol content of the brain equaling about 25 percent of the total of all cholesterol in the body.
Cholesterol is necessary for the body to produce hormones and vitamin D and the acids that reduce fat.
So what happens when there is too much cholesterol?
Too much cholesterol clogs blood vessels and prevents blood flow and contributes to heart disease. Heart disease can result in high blood pressure, strokes, and heart attacks. Heart disease is the number one killer in the world of men and women –across all races and ethnicities.
Cholesterol travels through the body attached to a protein called a lipoprotein.
Low density lipoproteins (LDL) – also called bad cholesterol – allow
cholesterol to build up in blood vessels; high density proteins (HDL) – also
called good cholesterol – move cholesterol away from the vessels.
You want the HDLs to be high and the LDLs to be low.
What causes high cholesterol? Some of it is hereditary. But there is a lot of environmental and lifestyle choices we can make to reduce our cholesterol – and to keep ourselves healthy.
Exercise regularly. Science has proven that regular exercise raises HDLs and reduces LDLs. Exercise accomplishes this in many ways, including helping to reduce stress which boosts cholesterol.
Don’t smoke. If you do smoke, stop. Smoking lowers HDLs. You don’t want to engage in activity that lowers HDLs.
And then there is the excess of food and drink during the holidays. Now, what is
interesting is that studies have shown that we have long overestimated how much
weight people gain during the season. Actually, most adults who are of average weight gain only a pound or two.
But here is the thing. That pound or two that people gain – it doesn’t go away.
And it seems that if you are already overweight then during the holidays the chances are that you will gain five pounds. That weight also doesn’t go away.
Being overweight contributes to high cholesterol.
Of course it matters what you eat. Some foods help reduce cholesterol – and
others raise cholesterol levels.
As for eating healthy, it is not that complex nor does it require much research.
Most of us almost instinctively know what is good for us and what isn’t
good for us.
If you add to your diet more fruits, vegetables, whole and unprocessed grains, nuts – and reduce your consumption of fatty red meats, while increasing consumption of fish and leaner meats, you will follow a diet that is cholesterol lowering and heart healthy.
Scientific research tells us that omega-3 fatty acids which are found in high doses in many healthy foods – including fruits, vegetables, cold water fish, and certain fruit and vegetable oils (including olive, soybean, and canola oils) – are particularly good for our heart and can help lower cholesterol.
A vitamin supplement that has been shown to reduce cholesterol is niacin, also called vitamin B3.
We hear a lot of conflicting information and clinical reporting on alcohol. It
seems that moderate alcohol consumption – one to two drinks a day – can
actually be good for heart health and total health. Research also suggests that resveratrol, a compound found in grape skins and in red wine, is heart healthy and cholesterol reducing.
Yet of course excess alcohol consumption hurts mind and body in many ways. One way is that when alcohol enters body – and it doesn’t matter if it is contained
in vodka, beer, wine, or tequila – it gets converted into sugar. Excess sugar causes weight gain. Weight gain can increase cholesterol levels.
If we know almost instinctively the foods that are good for us – we probably don’t need to do a lot of reading and watching documentaries about healthy eating to figure out what foods aren’t good for us and can lead to heart disease and congested blood vessels.
Stay away from foods made with flour and sugar, which is heavily processed. When you eat the processed flour and sugar it causes inflammation in your body – which is not good – and it pushes down HDL levels and pushes up LDL
Hydrogenated oils (with hydrogenation a process that improves its shelf life) are very bad for the body; they are found in margarine, fried foods, commercial baked goods, and other processed foods.
Marbled and fatty red meat can taste good – but too much of it is not good for your health. It jacks up cholesterol. If it comes through a window – meaning fast and junk food – it is good bet that is a concentrated form of unhealthy: bad fat, processed flour, and bad oils.
Getting back to the holidays and food and drink and indulgence – the bigger problem in terms of what we do our body is not what we do to it just in those six weeks from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, but what we set and establish in our body during that time period that stays there and continues to weaken and hurt us.
But we can counter the negative with the positive.
Keep up your exercise during this busy time of year. If you don’t exercise,
start – don’t wait for New Year’s.
Turkey and lean meats are all right in moderation – and vegetables are healthy if not overly laden with sauces and butter. Bread can be whole grain. Use olive oil in place of butter. Seafood that is not heavily breaded or not fried is good for you.
Feel free to enjoy a few handfuls of nuts along with the omega-3s within them.
Rather than beer, have a glass of red wine.
You can have dessert – but just one small dessert. One regular serving of
pie should suffice.
Think ahead. Be disciplined. Be smart.
You can still enjoy the holidays – and eating – and not add those few pounds that in many people take up residence and never move out.
Steve Bernardi is a Framingham resident and registered compounding pharmacist and co-owner of Johnson Compounding and Wellness Center in Waltham (www.naturalcompounder.com). Readers with questions about natural or
homeopathic medicine, compounded medications, or health in general can email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 781-893-3870.