Cholesterol is a fatty molecule found in different tissues of the body and circulated through the blood. It is produced in the body tissues, mainly by the liver, and absorbed from the diet.
The body uses cholesterol to make cell membranes, hormones, bile acids, vitamin D, and other substances.
Our bodies make enough cholesterol on their own to function. The type and amount of cholesterol in the bloodstream determine if you may develop fatty deposits, also known as plaque, in your blood vessels. Over time, the plaque can build up and break off, potentially causing a heart attack or stroke.
According to a 2017 article published in The Lancet, a leading medical journal, the Tsimane, a population who live in the Bolivian Amazon jungle, have the lowest reported levels of coronary artery disease of any population recorded to date. These findings suggest that coronary atherosclerosis can be avoided in most people by achieving a lifetime with very low LDL, low blood pressure, low glucose, normal body mass index, no smoking, and plenty of physical activity. The relative contributions of each are still to be determined. 
HDL (“good”) cholesterol and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol
The HDL ( high-density lipoproteins), known as the “Good” cholesterol, carries cholesterol away from the cells back to the liver, where it can be broken down and removed from the body.
LDL (low-density lipoproteins) is also called the “bad” cholesterol because it carries cholesterol to tissues.
What causes a person’s LDL level to be high?
- Most of the time, diet and lifestyle are the key culprits. Eating foods high in trans fats, saturated fats, and easily digested carbohydrates increase LDL.
- A sedentary lifestyle lowers HDL (good) cholesterol. Less HDL means there’s less good cholesterol to remove LDL (bad) cholesterol from your arteries.
- Genes are sometimes at the root of high cholesterol, as well some medications can raise LDL.
Certain foods affect your cholesterol levels.
Diet high in trans fat, saturated fat and cholesterol increase the risk for cholesterol to stick to the arteries as it travels around the body and clogs them up.
Different types of fats affect differently on cholesterol levels.
The biggest culprit these days is the consumption of trans fats.
Trans fats often are found in:
- prepackaged products or items that are made with shortening or margarine
- non-dairy whipped cream
- fast foods
- fried foods
Trans fats, a form of processed (hydrogenated) cooking oil, have been identified as dangerous food additives.
Monounsaturated and Polyunsaturated fats
Our body needs dietary fats to absorb nutrients, make hormones and build cells.
Healthy fats are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats; these include:
- olive oil
- fatty fish
- nuts, like almonds, walnuts and macadamias
Omega-3 has been shown to reduce triglycerides, lower blood pressure and the risk of developing blood clots.
Signs of high cholesterol
Unfortunately, there are no symptoms.
The only way to find out is a blood test.
The current health advice is to improve your diet and lifestyle.
The first treatment is usually behavioural lifestyle changes.
The primary focus is around physical activity – at least 30 minutes of exercise daily – and modifying your diet.
Natural Medicine suggestions
- Learn the root cause of high cholesterol. It can be due to dietary and lifestyle factors; it can also result from genetic factors or other health conditions.
- Our approach to supporting the lowering of high cholesterol is with a nutritious diet and lifestyle changes.
- Advice on increasing soluble fibre in the diet and supplements like omega 3 Fish oils/Algae oils, Niacin, and Herbal Remedies are recommended individually depending on the health condition/if taking certain medications.
- Keep in mind that cholesterol levels are just one piece of the puzzle of reducing cardiovascular disease. A comprehensive perspective is critical.
1 “Coronary atherosclerosis in indigenous South American ….” 17 Mar. 2017, https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(17)30752-3/fulltext.
2 Gurven, M., Stieglitz, J., Trumble, B., Blackwell, A. D., Beheim, B., Davis, H., Hooper, P., & Kaplan, H. (2017). The Tsimane Health and Life History Project: Integrating anthropology and biomedicine. Evolutionary anthropology, 26(2), 54–73. https://doi.org/10.1002/evan.21515
3 Crichton GE, Alkerwi A. Physical activity, sedentary behavior time and lipid levels in the Observation of Cardiovascular Risk Factors in Luxembourg study. Lipids Health Dis. 2015 Aug 11;14:87. doi: 10.1186/s12944-015-0085-3. PMID: 26256803; PMCID: PMC4530482.