1) Vital to every cell in the body 2) Essential for hormones 3) Helps repair when there is inflammation present 4)Helps synthesize vitamin D 5) Made by the liver but should also be obtained by the diet 6) High quantities found in breastmilk
It’s CHOLESTEROL! Today I want to address how cholesterol is actually vital for our health, but specifically how and why it’s important for our brain and endocrine system.
If this is the first time you’ve been to my site, welcome! My name is Katie Vigesaa, I’m a registered dietitian with the simple philosophy that nutrition can help. I offer individualized nutrition consultations, as well as teach nutrition classes. I have online offerings in the works so continue to stay tuned! Now back to our topic..
Cholesterol is not something we should fear. In fact, in its unstressed state, the liver makes about 75% of your cholesterol needs. Isn’t it interesting that our body has already produced a back-up plan to ensure it receives enough cholesterol by having the liver create it? I think so. The body isn’t trying to self-destruct by doing so. The rest of your cholesterol should come your food. Foods like butter, shellfish, eggs and meat are all sources of cholesterol (and lots of vitamins and minerals!)
It’s taken a while for research to finally catch on, but in 2015 the advisory panel to the dietary guidelines eliminated warnings about dietary cholesterol stating, “Cholesterol is not a nutrient of concern for overconsumption.” What great news this is finally being recognized.
The Brain Needs Cholesterol
Cholesterol is vital for brain function. About 25% of the body’s cholesterol is concentrated in the brain. Cholesterol is helpful to create strong sturdy cell membranes. Healthy cell membranes create effective communication between the cells.
When our cells are able to communicate effectively guess what happens? Our memory and learning abilities are improved and we are more mentally alert. Isn’t it interesting that breast milk is (or, should be, based on mom’s diet) rich in cholesterol and other fats? It’s by design. Babies brains are developing at a rapid rate and needs lots of energy and healthy fats to grow smart and strong.
Our brain also relies on cholesterol for good moods. Studies show that low cholesterol levels are often associated with depression. Clinically, I see this all this time. In fact, I remember a client specifically saying something to the effect of, “Well, I ache, I can’t sleep, I’m depressed, I’m overweight, but I’ve got one good thing going for me — my cholesterol levels are really low!” Isn’t that interesting? This is what we’ve always been taught. The lower the better for cholesterol. The reality is, her low cholesterol levels were affecting her health and her mood.
We now know that one of the side-effects of the class of cholesterol lowering drugs called statins is memory loss. Why? Statins block an enzyme in the liver that the liver needs in order to produce cholesterol. The cholesterol pathway gets turned off, the brain starts to lose its precious cholesterol and memory loss can set in. Remember, those cell membranes need the cholesterol to communicate effectively.
The Endocrine System Needs Cholesterol
After the brain, the organs that are hungriest for cholesterol are our endocrine glands; the adrenal and sex glands. They help produce hormones that rely on cholesterol. Hormones like testosterone, progesterone, estrogens, pregnenolone, aldosterone, and others all rely on cholesterol. These hormones are critical for our health and allow us to feel our best. They perform many functions ranging from mood balance, mineral assimilation, energy production, metabolism, muscle and bone formation, reproduction and beyond. Because of our stressful modern lifestyles, our body uses up these hormones at a rapid rate. This point brings me back to the fact that we do need to get cholesterol in our food as our liver can become taxed trying to do all of its typical functions, plus produce extra cholesterol for the ever-hungry hormone production wheel.
Since we now know we need cholesterol for our hormones, we have made the connection that we ultimately need hormones for our fertility. Research has “discovered” that eating foods such as full-fat dairy products cures infertility in women and that women who choose the high-fat dairy products are more fertile than those that choose the low-fat products. Did we need any more reason to add butter to our broccoli? If so, here it is!