The number one cause of death in America is heart disease attributing about 1 in every 4 deaths. Heart disease is caused by cardiovascular problems, many of which can be prevented with a proper diet. With the number of deaths so high, it is natural to look at causes and make assumptions, however with new studies and research coming out, it is clear that cholesterol alone is not the problem like most people think. Yes, high levels of cholesterol in the blood can cause plaque build up that can eventually lead to a heart attack or stroke, however the real problems start with gut health.
Before getting into the issues that start from the gut, let’s talk about cholesterol and what it actually is. Cholesterol is an essential structural component of cell membranes, therefor it is something that every human needs, especially if they are working out and causing damage to cells. There are two types of cholesterol HDL (High Density Lipoprotein) and LDL (Low Density Lipoprotein). These Lipoproteins are actually the transport system that cholesterol ‘rides’ on. LDL particles bring cholesterol to the cells when they need rebuilding. Cholesterol is separated from the LDL particle and the LDL returns to the liver. HDL carries cholesterol away from the cells and returns it to the liver. So it makes sense that when we think of LDL we think of ‘bad’ cholesterol because this is the compound that if there is too much in the blood can cause plaque build up. HDL is considered ‘good’ because it is responsible for bringing cholesterol out of the blood and back to the liver. The fact is however, that we need healthy amounts of both LDL and HDL for cells to function properly.
Now that we have an understanding of cholesterol, lets talk about how gut health ties in. Most people are unaware that the highest concentration of immune cells are in the gut. This is because the gut is exposed to the outside world through the food we consume. Bacteria, both good and bad come into the body through the food we consume and when there’s a threat, the immune cells need to know right away that they need to attack. Mucin, is the mucosal layer that separates the gut bacteria from the immune cells. When this wall is compromised the immune cells start to kill gut bacteria and endotoxin is release from the membrane of the bacteria cells. Endotoxin then can actually bind to LDL particles at the same docking site that cholesterol uses. This particle can’t go back to the liver because of the endotoxin so it remains in the blood stream. Immune cells launch proinflammatory cytokines (small proteins) that build up and form a plaque.
Sounds bad right? So what causes the gut inflammation and breakdown of the Mucin layer? The Mucin layer requires energy to be made. The cells like to get that energy from short chain fatty acids (SCFA’s). SCFA’s are made by bacteria that can ferment certain fibers that we get from vegetables, roots, fruits etc. The more of the foods we consume, the more reinforced the mucin layer will be. The problem is, when we consume too much sugary, processed foods, the gut bacteria develops a resistance to them. The bacteria begins to starve and instead of dying off, the bacteria will begin to consume the Mucin layer, causing what’s commonly known as Leaky Gut Syndrome which begins the whole process I’ve discussed above and a long list of other life threatening issues. So when we are told to consume less saturated fat since it raises LDL cholesterol levels, it is only an issue if we are chronically inflamed at the gut level, which unfortunately most American’s are. Take care of/rebuild the gut the scary life threatening stuff will subside.