WHAT IS CHOLESTEROL?
Before I delve into the new study, let’s discuss cholesterol and what it is. Cholesterol is a fatty and waxy substance that is manufactured in the body, found in food (like animal products), and sometimes manufactured by the body in response to certain foods (like animal products and dairy, for example).
BENEFITS OF CHOLESTEROL
We need cholesterol to live: every cell in our body contains cholesterol, which is necessary for the production of hormones (including some like cortisol, which is integral to life), generation of vitamin D, the formation of bile that breaks down fats, to provide stability to cellular walls and other functions.
PROBLEMS LINKED TO EXCESSIVE AMOUNTS OF CHOLESTEROL
However, when too much builds up, the excess cholesterol can clog arteries by causing them to become narrow and restricting blood flow through them, making us vulnerable to heart disease. While there are other factors to consider with heart disease, new researchpublished in Nature Chemistry found that cholesterol plays a causative role in Alzheimer’s.
CHOLESTEROL AND ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE
Led by the University of Cambridge, in the United Kingdom, the new study found that excessive cholesterol could act as a catalyst for causing beta-amyloid plaques to form in the brain—a key causal factor in Alzheimer’s disease. When beta-amyloid plaques build up, they impede healthy brain functioning and even kill healthy brain cells.
But what causes the plaques to form in the first place? That question has eluded many researchers until now. In the new study, scientists found that when beta-amyloid encounters fats, steroids, waxes and other compounds, they are more likely to stick together and form brain-damaging plaques. Beta-amyloid plaques are particularly likely to clump in the presence of cholesterol, causing the formation of clusters.
And, cholesterol didn’t just speed up the formation a bit, it caused beta-amyloid plaques to form clusters at a rate that is a whopping 20 TIMES faster than when cholesterol isn’t present. If that’s not enough reason for you to start increasing the number of fruits and vegetables in your diet, I’m not sure what will be.
THE CHOLESTEROL-CANCER LINK
While the new study clearly links cholesterol to beta-amyloid plaque buildup in the brain and the resulting increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease, the not-so-harmless compound has also been linked to cancer. Yes, researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles found a link between high cholesterol levels and cancer. The study published in the medical journal Cell Stem Cell found that dietary cholesterol was linked to an increase in the proliferation of some intestinal cells, significantly increasing the risk of cancerous tumors in the intestines.
HOW TO REDUCE YOUR CHOLESTEROL LEVELS
So how can you reduce your cholesterol levels? There are many ways, including reducing the amount of fat in your diet from animal sources (meat, dairy products, cheese) and baked goods, fried foods and processed foods, or any foods that contain trans fats.
Harvard University identified the top 11 foods that lower cholesterol levels, including:
-Oats and oatmeal
-Barley and other whole grains
-Beans and legumes
-Eggplant and okra
-Vegetable oil (olive or sunflower, but choose an oil that has not been refined. Ideally, the product should be labelled “cold-pressed.” Most canola oil has been genetically-modified and is best avoided).
-Fruits, particularly apples, grapes, strawberries and citrus (try to choose organic as much as possible since foods like strawberries, grapes and apples are often heavily sprayed with pesticides).
-Soy and soy-based foods (this is a controversial finding since most soy has been genetically-modified, so if you’re eating soy be sure it is certified organic).
-Fatty fish, including: salmon, tuna and sardines (while the Harvard report did not include flaxseeds, flaxseed oil, hempseeds, hempseed oil, walnuts and walnut oil, you can reap many of the same benefits from these foods)
-Foods high in fiber
You can also talk to your doctor to see if you can eliminate or replace any drugs that are known to increase cholesterol levels, including: corticosteroids (cortisone), progestins and anabolic steroids.