Cholesterol is a fatty substance that is important in human tissues. Every cell in the human body requires cholesterol to function properly. It acts as a sealing compound that is essential for controlling diffusion across the cell walls and blood vessel walls. These barriers are regulated to manage the fluid and pressure in the cells and vascular systems of the body. Of all the cholesterol in the human body, only 7 percent exists in the bloodstream. The other 93% is located in our cells.
Most of our cholesterol—80 percent—is produced by the human body itself, primarily by the liver. This isn’t only in times of disease, when the body isn’t functioning properly. In fact, our bodies produce cholesterol to keep us in a state of optimal health.
Some important facts about cholesterol:
- Cholesterol forms 50 percent of the nervous system, and the brain requires it for proper growth and development since it serves as a conductor of nerve impulses.
- Cholesterol forms the membranes for your cells that regulate the flow of nutrients into them and waste products out.
- Cholesterol is responsible for heart muscle contractions; proper levels are needed for both liver function and calcium metabolism.
- Cholesterol forms the building blocks of hormone production for the adrenal, sex, and pituitary glands.
- Cholesterol is needed by the skin to convert sunlight into vitamin D and provide a barrier that keeps unwanted fluids from entering.
- Cholesterol aids in the digestion of complex food fats, and we need it to absorb the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, F, and K.
Cholesterol levels vary throughout the day, and they can even depend on the season (often being higher during colder months). Cholesterol levels can also be affected by mental stress, chronic pain, going through a fearful experience, working too much, and not exercising enough. Nicotine, alcohol, and other drugs (including medications) also impact cholesterol levels.
In studies, animal and human subjects fed unrefined vegetable oils experienced a gradual fall in blood cholesterol, but if they were fed synthetic fats such as the hydrogenated oils, in which the natural vitamins have been destroyed in the conversion of the oil to the synthetic fat, then the subjects’ blood cholesterol progressively increased.
While the measurement of cholesterol in our blood is a helpful number on our blood work, seeking to merely decrease the overall number on that page is not the route to optimal health. That number will even itself out when we are able to decrease chronic inflammation, which is best done via lifestyle and diet improvements.