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Cholesterol has been under much media scrutiny of late as the medical establishment continues to argue over this issue. The still unresolved issue is whether or not saturated fat – which is high in cholesterol – is evil or not.
To answer this, it might help to understand cholesterol’s role in health, and how and why it can turn bad. Cholesterol is essential for life and is primarily manufactured in the liver, but other cells in the body also form cholesterol. Cholesterol is a fat that helps your skin repel water. It is the primary component of all of your hormones, it is a major building block molecule for many structures of the body, and helps the skin on the inside and outside of the body ward off toxic chemicals as well as hold precious water and moisture in. (1)
Most importantly, about 80% of it is converted into cholic acid which forms the body’s bile. Bile is the pac-man that gobbles up toxic fats in the liver and intestines while helping to break down and deliver good fats into the blood and lymph. (1) If the diet is healthy with whole foods and high fiber, the bile will escort the toxins to the toilet, but if the diet is low in fiber and loaded with processed fats, up to 94% of the bile with all the toxins in tow can be re-absorbed back into the liver. (2)
The remaining cholesterol is used to form the more famous cholesterol lipoprotein particles, known as the “good cholesterol” (HDL) and the “bad cholesterol” (LDL). These lipoproteins escort fats to and from the cells throughout the body.
The problems arise when these HDL and LDL particles are oxidized or damaged. Some of this oxidative damage can come from toxins in the environment like cigarette smoke, heavy metal exposure and stress. Living a stress-free life, meditating or prayer, eating whole non-processed foods, avoiding alcohol in excess, breathing clean air and drinking clean water will decrease the oxidation of the LDL and HDL cholesterol particles. (3,4)
Under stress, even the good HDL cholesterols can be oxidized and damaged, according to new research. So, the total cholesterol number is much less indicative of your cardiovascular risk than before, because it doesn’t reflect how much of your so-called “good” or “bad” cholesterols are damaged, oxidized and thus dangerous.
A More Accurate Measure
A more accurate measure of your tendency to have oxidized cholesterols is your triglyceride number. Keeping this number low has a great deal to do with diet, in particular your sugar intake.
You can also look at one of your old blood tests and divide your triglyceride number by your HDL number. If the HDL’s go into your triglycerides three or more times, there is an increased risk of oxidized cholesterols. (13)
The goal, based on this new theory, is to reduce triglycerides and raise your HDL levels. To accomplish this, we must deal with the biggest oxidizer of them all – sugar. When you ingest sugar or processed carbs, it quickly breaks down into glucose and enters the bloodstream. Insulin is then secreted by the pancreas to drive the sugar into the cells. If your blood sugar is chronically high as a result of too much simple sugar in the diet, the insulin levels will rise. The insulin will then redirect the sugar to the fat cells, where it is stored as fat. This raises triglyceride levels, raises blood sugar and damages your cholesterol particles. (6)
Excess sugar in the blood will also glycate, which means that the sugar and proteins in the bloodstream will stick together and clump. These clumpy protein-sugar compounds are really bad. They damage the LDL and HDL cholesterol, get stuck in the small arteries and are directly linked to heart, brain, joint and circulatory issues. (5)
Reversing This Process
According to Ayurveda, as well as a growing body of research, the underlying link between oxidized cholesterol, insulin production and blood sugar regulation is determined by the health of the intestinal skin. Studies have repeatedly found that folks with intestinal and gut health concerns are more likely to have higher oxidized cholesterol, high insulin levels and stored fat around the belly. (7)
A premier herb in Ayurveda, called Amalaki, has been shown in numerous studies to help maintain the health of the inner skin or epithelium of the body, and has also been shown to lower triglycerides while raising HDL levels. (8,9)
Amalaki (Phyllanthus emblica) is well-known as one of the most potent sources of natural full spectrum vitamin C, which can only be derived from our foods. After much investigative research, it turns out that amalaki or 1 small amla berry has about 10 times more vitamin C than one orange by weight. (10) Unlike most forms of vitamin C, which are acidic and can cause loose stools at higher doses, amalaki is alkaline and aids in supporting and firming bowel movements. Amalaki has a long history of support for the health of the intestinal skin, and now studies are confirming the relationship between intestinal health and healthy cholesterol and blood sugar. (8,9)
Linked to the health of the intestinal tract, amalaki was shown to increase HDL’s by an astonishing 18%. In addition, amalaki was linked to lower LDL oxidation levels by 17%, along with support for lower triglycerides. (11)
Wrinkles, loss of collagen and aging skin on both the inside and outside, exacerbated by high sugar and insulin levels, result in glycation and the production of AGEs (advanced glycation end-products). The AGEs are now theorized to be as damaging as free radicals, and are believed to be responsible for many age-related degenerative health concerns. Amalaki has been shown in numerous studies to support healthy blood sugar. (8,9,11)
The inner lining of the arteries are the most vulnerable to the ravages of glycation and oxidation, and, as a result, may be the most important tissues of the body to maintain. Studies show that amalaki supports the very delicate skin that lines the arteries and the skin that lines the intestines. Ayurveda considers amalaki a rasayana, which is an herbal classification for herbs that deliver mental and physical health and the reversal of aging. (12)