In my last post on cholesterol I discussed how cholesterol got it’s bad reputation via shady science. This post is going to lay out why human life necessitates adequate cholesterol.
Function of Cholesterol
Often you hear people discuss “good” cholesterol (HDL cholesterol) and “bad” cholesterol (LDL cholesterol). But I’m here to tell you that all cholesterol is good cholesterol! There are only bad outcomes if cholesterol ends up somewhere it doesn’t belong, such as being inside the wall of an artery. (We’ll be talking about how this happens in another post.) Cholesterol is a necessary and vital part of a healthy body!
- All cell membranes require cholesterol to exist. Cell membranes are built and maintained by cholesterol.
- Cholesterol controls cell movement, interaction with other cells, and transportation of things into and out of the cell.
- The body must have cholesterol to synthesize hormones, specifically steroid hormones and sex hormones.
- Cholesterol mobilizes fat soluble vitamins. The vitamins A, D, E, and K could not be distributed throughout the body without the use of cholesterol.
- Nerve cells are insulated with cholesterol. This insulation allows for extremely rapid transmission of signals.
- Cholesterol is also responsible for bile acid production. Bile is important because it aids in the absorption of fats in the digestive tract, which in turn aid in the absorption of fat soluble vitamins.
- The function of the brain is highly dependent on cholesterol. The brain is, in fact, the most cholesterol rich organ in the body.1 Cholesterol builds brain and nerve tissue.
- There has also been research that indicates that cholesterol acts as an antioxidant in the body.2 Antioxidants are important molecules in the body because they help protect our cells from damage. Antioxidants play a huge role in preventing a number of diseases, particularly heart disease (oh, the irony) and cancer.
Risks of Low Cholesterol
- Because the brain is so rich in cholesterol and it is such a vital part of the nervous system, having low cholesterol can lead to memory impairment and even brain damage. This is particularly true when cholesterol is artificially lowered through the use of medication.3, 4
- Mental health researchers have found low cholesterol linked to suicide and violence.5
- Low LDL cholesterol (the so-called “bad” cholesterol) increases cancer risk. This could quite possibly be because, as mentioned previously, cholesterol acts as an antioxidant and without the protection of antioxidants cells are more likely to undergo damage.6
- Some research has also linked low cholesterol to a very deadly type of stroke. This type of stroke, called a cerebral hemorrhage has a 50% mortality rate.7
- Low cholesterol in pregnant mothers has been linked to premature births and low birth weight babies. Cholesterol is particularly important in the prenatal period in order to nourish the placenta and the developing fetal brain.8
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