by Elizabeth Walling, citizen journalist
If you've been religiously counting cholesterol grams in an attempt to eliminate it from your diet, you may be startled to hear the main function of cholesterol in the body is not to clog your arteries. The media has propagated cholesterol as a vile substance akin to trans fat, but in reality, it's not so simple. Cholesterol is not all bad - in fact, it has important functions in a variety of vital processes in your body.
First it should be noted that cholesterol is not a type of fat; it is a high-molecular-weight alcohol made in the liver and other cells in the body. It is not water-soluble and cannot actually be transported freely in the blood. Instead, it is carried in lipoprotein throughout the body so it performs essential duties.
Here are just some of the many tasks cholesterol accomplishes in your body each day:
- Cholesterol is a crucial building material in the body. It helps maintain the structure of cells and vessels, improving overall health and function in the body.
- Cholesterol is a precursor to important sex hormones like testosterone, estrogen, androgen and progesterone. It is also a precursor to corticosteroids, hormones whose primary function is to protect the body against stress and disease. This includes the crucial hormones, cortisol and DHEA.
- Used as an insulator around nerves, cholesterol promotes healthy nervous system function and helps to prevent diseases associated with the nervous system. It is absolutely essential for brain function.
- Since bile salts are made from cholesterol, adequate cholesterol is needed for proper digestion. In addition, cholesterol aids the digestive system by strengthening the intestinal walls.
- Cholesterol is a precursor to vitamin D, an important nutrient which supports a healthy immune and nervous system, reproduction, insulin production and the metabolism of minerals. Recently the suggested daily allowance for vitamin D has been significantly raised in light of how important it is for good health.
- Serotonin receptors in the brain require cholesterol in order to function properly. Serotonin is an important neurotransmitter that promotes a natural feeling of well-being. Low levels of serotonin are linked to depression, violence and suicide.
Understanding this information can help to clear up the fog surrounding the truth about cholesterol's function in the body. Cholesterol itself is not a substance that should be feared as one would fear the bubonic plague. It is a naturally occurring alcohol, manufactured by the body for very specific and necessary reasons. Without it, our quality of life would be severely reduced and our health would ultimately fail.
Fallon, Sally and Enig, Mary. (1999) Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats.
Schwarzbein, Diana. (1999) The Schwarzbein Principle: The Truth About Losing Weight, Being Healthy and Feeling Younger.
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