In This Article
Is Cholesterol Good or Bad?
Is cholesterol good or bad? The medical establishment continues to argue over it. The unresolved issue is whether saturated fat (high in cholesterol) is evil.
To answer this, it might help to understand cholesterol’s role in health, and how 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, 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 cholesterol is converted into cholic acid, which forms bile. Bile is the Pac-Man that gobbles up toxic fats in the liver and intestines, while helping break down and deliver good fats into the blood and lymph.1 If the diet is healthy with whole foods and high fiber, bile will escort toxins to the toilet, but if the diet is low in fiber and loaded with processed fats, up to 94% of bile (with toxins in tow) can be re-absorbed by the liver.2
HDL + LDL
The remaining cholesterol is used to form the more famous cholesterol lipoprotein particles: known as “good cholesterol” (HDL) and “bad cholesterol” (LDL). These lipoproteins escort fats to and from the cells throughout the body.
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. A stress-free life, meditation or prayer, whole non-processed foods, avoiding alcohol in excess, breathing clean air, and drinking clean water will decrease oxidation of LDL and HDL cholesterol particles.3,4
Under stress, even good HDL cholesterols can be oxidized and damaged, according to new research. So total cholesterol number is much less indicative of cardiovascular risk than we used to think, because it doesn’t reflect how much of your cholesterols are damaged (oxidized) and thus dangerous.
New blood tests are available to measure your oxidized LDL called OxLDL which is a cutting edge blood test to rule our cardiovascular and metabolic risk.14
Triglycerides: A More Accurate Measure of Cholesterol Health
An easy and accurate measure of your tendency to have oxidized cholesterol is your triglyceride number. Keeping this number low has a great deal to do with diet, in particular sugar intake.
You can look at one of your old blood tests and divide your triglyceride number by your HDL number. If the HDLs go into your triglycerides three or more times, there is increased risk of oxidized cholesterols. Ideally that number should be under 2.13
The goal, based on this new theory, is to reduce triglycerides and raise HDL. To accomplish this, we must deal with the second biggest oxidizer of them all: sugar (iron is #1). 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 sugar into cells. If sugar is chronically high, a result of too many simple sugars in the diet, insulin will rise. Insulin will then redirect sugar to fat cells, where it is stored as fat. This raises triglyceride levels, increases blood sugar, and damages 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 LDL and HDL cholesterol; get stuck in small arteries; and are directly linked to heart, brain, joint, and circulatory issues.5
Reverse the Process with Amalaki
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 repeatedly find 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, amalaki, has been shown in numerous studies to help maintain health of the inner skin or epithelium, and has also been shown to lower LDLs and triglycerides, while raising HDL levels.8,9
Amalaki (Emblica officinalis) is well-known as one of the most potent sources of natural full-spectrum vitamin C, which can only be derived from food. After much research, it turns out amalaki, or one small amla berry, has about 10 times the vitamin C of one orange.10
Unlike most forms of vitamin C, which are acidic and cause loose stools at higher doses, amalaki is alkaline and aids in correcting and firming bowel movements. Amalaki has a long history of supporting the health of intestinal skin, and now studies are confirming the relationship between intestinal health and healthy cholesterol and blood sugar levels.8,9
Linked to the health of the intestinal tract, amalaki was shown to support healthy HDLs by an astonishing 18%. In addition, amalaki was linked to lower LDL oxidation levels by 17%, along with support for healthy triglycerides and VLDLs.11
Wrinkles, loss of collagen, and aging skin on both the inside and outside, caused by high sugar and insulin levels, result in glycation and production of AGEs (advanced glycation end-products). AGEs are now thought to be as damaging as free radicals, and are responsible for many degenerative health concerns. Amalaki has been shown in numerous studies to support healthy blood sugar and insulin levels.8,9,11
The inner lining of the arteries are the most vulnerable to ravages of glycation and oxidation, and may be the most important tissues of the body to maintain. Studies show amalaki supports the very delicate skin that lines the arteries and intestines. Ayurveda considers amalaki a rasayana, a classification for herbs that deliver mental and physical health and reversal of aging.12
In conclusion, cholesterol is not necessarily bad! But damaged cholesterol is. You may want to look into your triglyceride levels for a clearer idea of how your cholesterol is doing and consider the Ayurvedic superberry amalaki for year-round (but particularly winter) protection.
- Guyton and Hall. Textbook of Medical Physiology. 12th edition. Saunders Press 2011. p Ch 68. p826
- Guyton and Hall. Textbook of Medical Physiology. 12th edition. Saunders Press 2011. p Ch 64. p785