the essential nature of cholesterol

| December 18, 2012
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“Cholesterol is absolutely vital for our existence.         Peter Attia, MD

There’s no such thing as ‘good and bad’ cholesterol. As shown below, cholesterol is a single natural substance – the grandmother steroid – featuring a four-ring structure of carbon atoms.

All steroid hormones (such as Vitamin D) are made from cholesterol, but cholesterol is much more than a hormone.

Classified as a fat-soluble lipid, cholesterol is not a fat, it has no calories, and it’s not a source of energy. Cholesterol is a sterol – a high molecular weight alcohol. Animals, plants, and microorganisms require different sterols.

Cholesterol is the animal sterol – found in every cell in animal bodies. It is true that, as a minor component, cholesterol can be found in plant membranes, but the sterols  sitosterol and stigmasterol predominate in plants.

According to UK lipid biochemist Michael Gurr:   “Only cholesterol will allow animal cells to function as required. Without cholesterol, our bodies would not function properly and we would die.”

Cholesterol waterproofs our trillions of membranes, making it possible for our cells to regulate their internal environments – policing and maintaining “cellular security.” Cholesterol also plays a key role in intra and inter-cellular communications and signaling.

Cholesterol ensures that the cell’s lipid bi-layer (two layers of fat in phospholipid form) is neither too rigid nor too flexible. If that’s not enough, cholesterol is the goddess-like precursor to all adrenal, steroid and sex hormones such as estrogen and testosterone. Without cholesterol, we could not stand, move, think, respond to stress – or reproduce!

Cholesterol is also a major component of bile, an emulsifier required for dietary fats to be broken down and utilized. As a constituent of bile – on its singular route out of the body – cholesterol coats our slowly transiting feces. Only the liver can order cholesterol out of the body – and much of it is recycled.  Sorry Cheerios!

The liver is the main site of cholesterol synthesis, but every cell can make cholesterol (except nervous tissue).  Our bodies contain up to 100 grams of cholesterol – 90 percent in cell membranes and the rest dissolved in adipose and other tissues. The highest concentration (25 percent) is in the nerve cell connections and in the myelin that protects brain and nervous tissue.

In particular, infants need a large amount of cholesterol for proper brain development – and very large amounts of cholesterol are supplied in human milk – not in formula. Cholesterol is needed to properly form the part of the brain that allows the eyes to develop normally. In young and old alike, cholesterol is a primary raw material for many healing processes.

As an example, when an injury occurs on the Teflon-like, slick endothelial layer in an artery – say from high blood sugar – the body’s first responders are cholesterol, blood platelets, specialized white blood cells, and other materials that patch up the injury – similar to a scab forming over a break in the skin.

In the Optimal Diet, eggs are a “free food.”

“Cholesterol is absolutely essential for life,” writes Peter Attia, MD, President and co-Founder of the Nutrition Science Initiative:

“The animal body must have cholesterol to function properly and  to manufacture vital hormones and chemicals.”

And, for people whose bodies may not properly synthesize cholesterol, cholesterol in food may be a conditionally essential nutrient.

As you may note, the medical profession has utterly failed to properly describe the essential nature of cholesterol. Future editions of Diet Heart News will continue to expound on the importance of cholesterol and saturated fat in the American diet.


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Category: Lipids

Comments (6)

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  1. Peter B., Charlotte N.C. says:

    Hi Al:

    “Sorry Cheerios.” I love it!

    Cheerios has the audacity to promote even their most sugar coated versions of the product as being part of a heart healthy diet. What a crock!?! What is incredible to me that the the American public is so ignorant of nutrition science as to be vulnerable to that level of propaganda.

    The best one is where they provide a disclaimer right in with the dialoque of the commercial. The bald headed guy eating his breakfast reads the Cheerios box: “It says here that Cheerios is part of a heart healthy diet”. His wife kisses his bald head and says “That’s true, but you still have to go to the gym”.

    In other words, “So when you move up another T-shirt X size by this time next year, don’t blame Cheerios. It’s you own fault for not burning off enough calories.” It’s the same old calories-in, calories-out myth that Gary Taubes so effectively dismantles in his book Why We Get Fat.

    I am saving and forwarding all of your Dietheart News updates.

    Thank you kindly,

  2. Alan Watson says:

    Thank you, Peter. Yes Gary Taubes in Good Calories, Bad Calories broke the back of the Diet Heart Lipid Hypothesis. Encourage people to read that book!

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