Brace yourself, and be ready to throw everything you thought you knew about cholesterol out the window. High cholesterol may actually be a symptom of hormone deficiency rather than the result of a high-cholesterol diet, and correcting hormonal imbalances with diet and exercise may be the answer in many cases.
Hormone production tends to slow as you age, and this can trigger the body to produce more cholesterol, but this doesn’t have to be your fate!
In this article, I explain why your body needs cholesterol to make certain hormones, how hormone deficiency can lead to high cholesterol, and how to get your health back on track with diet and exercise.
Let’s get to it!
What Is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a fat-like molecule used to synthesize important cells, including hormones.
What are Hormones?
Hormones are chemical messengers that regulate critical functions in literally every organ of the body.
Cholesterol and the Body
Okay, maybe not everything you knew about cholesterol was wrong. It is true that high cholesterol can weaken the arteries and create blockages, but it’s also true that low cholesterol can cause problems of its own. (1)
You need certain levels of cholesterol to produce:
It’s easy to see why exceptionally low cholesterol can lead to a variety of health problems.
Why Low Cholesterol Isn’t Necessarily Healthy
When your liver doesn’t make enough cholesterol to keep up with hormone production, you can experience hormone deficiency.
This is why it’s dangerous to label cholesterol as “bad.” A cholesterol level of say, 160 or lower, could be harmful to your health because it can disrupt hormone production.
Balance is key when it comes to cholesterol, and both low cholesterol and high cholesterol can be markers of poor health. If you already have high cholesterol, you’ll need to lower it just enough to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease but not so much that it disrupts your hormones.
Good Cholesterol vs. Bad Cholesterol
Your body needs cholesterol just like it needs oxygen, magnesium, and any other critical component of human life.
Sure, too much cholesterol can kill you, but so can drinking too much water. The demon is in the dose, not the cholesterol.
What you’ve been told up until now is that LDL cholesterol is bad and that HDL cholesterol is good, but this oversimplification is misleading at best.
Here’s a quick breakdown of the difference between LDL and HDL cholesterol:
Cholesterol can’t dissolve in the blood, so in order to travel through the bloodstream, it needs to be wrapped in transport cells called lipoproteins.
LDL cholesterol, or low-density lipoproteins, carry cholesterol from the liver to different organs, while HDL cholesterol, or high-density lipoproteins, act like a mop to clean up the cholesterol that gets leftover in the blood.
You need the right amounts of both LDL cholesterol and HDL cholesterol to be healthy, but for many people, LDL cholesterol levels become too high as they age.
How the Body Makes Cholesterol
Roughly 80% of the cholesterol in your blood is made in the body ̶ only the remaining 20% comes from the food you eat. (2)
On average, the liver produces between 1-2 grams of cholesterol a day, and another 25% is produced in the small intestines.
Anytime your body needs more cholesterol to produce hormones like estrogen or testosterone, the liver synthesizes cholesterol and bundles it with a protein so it can be transported in the blood.
When you eat high-cholesterol foods, cholesterol production in the body slows down.
How the Body Makes Hormones from Cholesterol
I’m going to use the hormone pregnenolone to explain hormone production because it’s a precursor to many other hormones, including:
Most of the pregnenolone in the body is made in the adrenal gland, but a small percentage is made in the liver, testicles, ovaries, skin, and retina of the eyes. (3)
When the body needs more pregnenolone, the cholesterol travels to your mitochondria, the energy factory of the cells, where it’s converted into pregnenolone. From there, your body uses enzymes to convert pregnenolone into other critical hormones like DHEA and testosterone.
A Clash of Cholesterol Theories
Researchers are still trying to figure out what causes high cholesterol, so to be fair, neither theory is officially right or wrong. Depending on the patient, any of these factors can contribute to high cholesterol, but research is starting to lean towards hormone deficiency as a primary cause.
The Conventional Theory of High Cholesterol
The oldest-standing theories of what causes high cholesterol point to genetics and a high-fat diet as the culprits. But while these can always be contributing factors, they don’t solve the whole riddle.
First-line treatments like cholesterol-lowering drugs (CDL’s) temporarily reduce cholesterol, but they fail to address the cause. Once you stop taking CDL’s, cholesterol levels usually rise.
The New Theory of High Cholesterol
There is still a lot of confusion surrounding cholesterol, but recent research indicates that hormone deficiencies may be at the root of the problem.
For six years, doctors Arnold Smith and Sergey Dzugan treated 41 patients for high cholesterol by correcting hormone deficiencies in the body.
Once steroidal hormone levels returned to normal, 100% of the subjects experienced a significant reduction in blood cholesterol. (4)
Smith and Dzugan were able to treat high cholesterol at its source by restoring hormone production!
Once hormone levels returned to normal, the body no longer felt the need to boost hormone levels with increased cholesterol production.
The moral of the story? Fix your hormones, and fix your cholesterol.
Symptoms of Hormone Deficiency
In addition to causing high cholesterol, hormone deficiency can lead to a variety of symptoms. In fact, many of the most common health problems associated with aging may actually be the result of a hormonal imbalances:
Symptoms of hormone deficiency include:
Unfortunately, the list of potential side effects doesn’t stop here. Hormonal imbalances due to low cholesterol can initiate a chain reaction of more severe complications throughout the body.
Long-term Complications of Hormonal Imbalance
It’s an unfortunate truth that many people suffer from hormone deficiency, and people with low hormone levels have increased rates of life-altering problems, including:
Cancer at a young age
Now that you understand how important hormones and cholesterol are to your health, it’s time for some real talk about cholesterol-lowering drugs.
Problems with Cholesterol-Lowering Drugs
When hormone deficiency is the cause of high cholesterol, treating it with cholesterol-lowering drugs (CLD’s) may be making the situation worse. As cholesterol levels in the blood drop, the body gets tricked into thinking that it needs to produce even more cholesterol to keep up with hormone production.
At the same time, the side effects of CLD’s can cause hormone production to slow even further. (5) This is why patients on CLD’s experience many common symptoms of hormone deficiency, including:
High risk of cancer
Despite these complications, CLD’s continue to be one of the most widely prescribed drugs in the United States.
Treating High Cholesterol Naturally by Correcting Hormonal Imbalance
Instead of throwing a monkey wrench into your hormone production with CLD’s, try treating high cholesterol naturally with nutrition and exercise.
By eating right and making choices that reduce inflammation, you can normalize cholesterol levels by optimizing your hormones.
The Inflammation-Hormone Connection
Chronic inflammation is one of the most common risk factors of hormone deficiency.
In fact, a massive body of evidence connects sustained inflammation to all sorts of health problems, including:
When the cells in any part of the body are inflamed for too long, they can mutate, malfunction, and die. When this happens in the endocrine glands, it can seriously disrupt the production of critical hormones. (6)
Foods that Improve Hormonal Imbalance
When it comes to the foods you eat, I recommend stocking up on nutrient-dense foods that support proper gut health. These are the foods that support hormone production by reducing inflammation. And don’t forget to eat plenty of fiber and to stay hydrated! Get your fiber from low-inflammation sources like raspberries, avocado, and psyllium husk and drink at least eight glasses of water a day.
Here are some of the best low-inflammation foods for hormone support and healthy cholesterol:
1. Fermented/Probiotic Foods
Fermented foods contain active bacterial colonies that strengthen the gut lining and promote weight loss:
Apple cider vinegar
Salted gherkin pickles
These foods can help reduce inflammation and support hormone production by improving gut health. (7)
2. Prebiotic Foods
Believe it or not, the bacteria in your gut needs to eat too, and prebiotic foods are their favorite snacks.
3. Wild-Caught Fish
Salmon and sardines are full of omega-3 fatty acids, essential minerals, and antioxidants. Omega-3’s reduce inflammation in the gut and brain, improve neurotransmitter function, and strengthen the immune system.
4. Bone Broth
Bone broth is full of magnesium, calcium, collagen and other nutrients that repair gut damage, reduce inflammation, and increase energy.
Seaweed promotes thyroid health because of its high iodine content. The thyroid is one of the most important glands in the body, so it’s important to take good care of it.
6. Fruits and Vegetables
Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables to cover your bases for vitamin and mineral intake. Keep in mind that too much sugar, even if it’s from fruit, can be bad for gut health.
Foods to Avoid
Each time you eat, you get to choose between nutrient-dense foods and foods that promote inflammation.
Here are some of the most important foods to avoid:
1. Reduce Caffeine and Avoid Alcohol
Caffeine can lead to an increase in stress hormone production, so it’s best to limit caffeine consumption to 1-2 cups of tea a day. Do your best to avoid alcohol entirely.
2. Grains and Bread Products
Grains are inflammatory for a large percentage of the population, and they aren’t very nutrient-dense anyway. The gluten in bread and pasta is known to cause hormonal imbalances and promote gut inflammation.
Sugar, especially processed sugar, promotes weight gain and hormonal imbalances by fueling bad gut bacteria and weakening the gut lining. (8)
Supplements that Improve Hormonal Imbalance
Here are some of the best supplements for reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease by supporting hormone production:
Probiotic supplements can help colonize the digestive system with healthy bacteria to strengthen the gut and reduce inflammation throughout the body.
2. Fish oil
You can get the same anti-inflammatory benefits that you get from salmon and sardines in supplement form. Supplementing with fish oil has been shown to reduce hormone deficiency. (9)
3. Vitamin B
Vitamins B-12 and B-6 help the body produce hormones and can increase energy.
You need this important amino acid to make several hormones. Just like vitamin B-12, L-tyrosine can increase energy and fights depression.
Exercise for Better Hormone Production
Exercise is one of the most powerful things you can do for your hormones, but most people don’t get enough of it. Other people exercise too much and spike inflammation. If you want to optimize your hormones and reduce the risk of high cholesterol, you’ll need to find a healthy balance.
Here are some low-inflammation exercises for healthy hormone production:
1. Low-Impact Cardio
Running medium-to-long distances can be great for heart health, but it’s one of the worst types of exercise for inflammation. Instead of running, go on long walks, swim, or use the elliptical machine.
2. Weight Lifting
Lifting weights boosts hormone production, reduces stress, and improves bone density.
Yoga focuses on joint mobility, stamina, and most importantly, breathing. Deep breathing oxygenates the brain, reduces stress hormones, and decreases inflammation by stimulating the vagus nerve. (10)
With the right exercise and proper nutrition, you can get your hormones and your cholesterol back on track. Cholesterol-lowering drugs can temporarily reduce cholesterol, but they can also trigger the body to increase cholesterol production.
Not a good situation!
Instead, pursue a long-term, natural solution to high cholesterol with diet and exercise. To get the best treatment for your high cholesterol, contact us at Complete Care Health Centers and see one of our providers today.