We’ve been taught since a young age by The World Health Organization that fats, and saturated fats, in particular, were nothing but trouble. Decadent red meat, cheese, butter, and even egg yolks were on the list of foods to stay away from, but for what everyone thought was a good reason: to protect themselves from heart disease and obesity.
While high cholesterol levels are associated with cardiovascular risk & elevated blood pressure, dietary cholesterol has minimal effect on blood cholesterol (PMID: 29757226). Our body produces most LDL cholesterol (low-density lipoproteins) in the liver as beginning structures for our hormones. So, steroid hormones like estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, and cortisol rely on cholesterol for formation and health.
“Cholesterol can enter the blood through the digestion of dietary fat; however, since cholesterol has an important role in cellular function, it can also be directly synthesized by each cell in the body.” (PMID: 29757226)
Then, you might be wondering, where did this fear of saturated fats (aka dietary cholesterol) originate? In 1957, American physiologist Ancel Keys launched the “Seven Countries Study” (published here). He pursued how dietary fat would influence blood cholesterol by surveying the diets and health of those living in these seven countries: Italy, Greece, Yugoslavia, the Netherlands, Finland, Japan, and the United States. Unfortunately, there were many flaws with this study. One was that Keys had cherry-picked countries that supported his hypothesis, conveniently leaving out 15 countries that did not reveal any association between saturated-fat consumption and heart mortality.
More flaws of this study were revealed in science journalist Nina Teicholz’s book, The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat, Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet (2014). But even with the distortions in Keys’ “Seven Countries” study, The American Heart Association (AHA) declared in 1961 that saturated fats were “bad” and increased blood cholesterol, which blocked coronary arteries and caused heart attacks. This set in motion the fear of saturated fats that would spread across the world for decades.
So, how do we make sure our cholesterol levels are healthy while also consuming saturated fats?
- Recent evidence such as this study suggests that dietary cholesterol intake can influence plasma and serum levels, but not significantly. Instead, it says, “the prevention of chronic disease development is not the reduction of dietary or serum cholesterol but the control of systemic inflammation.” This system inflammation could be from hormone imbalances, liver stress, nutrient deficiencies, or pathogenic stress.
- The second factor of elevated cholesterol, studied by Leslie M. Klevay, is the deficiency of copper. He discovered that you could raise rats’ cholesterol by making them deficient in copper. Similar to Morley Robin’s findings that concluded bioavailable copper is central to the synthesis and regulation of cholesterol.
- The third factor of elevated cholesterol is not having enough retinol-A (active vitamin A nutrient found in dairy products, cod liver oil, and beef liver) to convert cholesterol into hormone D, bile acids, and sex hormones. This active vitamin A also helps regulate thyroid function, which allows the thyroid hormone to convert cholesterol into a steroid hormone. Thus, if you have low thyroid function or low vitamin A, eating fat-rich eggs, butter, and red meat may cause cholesterol to rise temporarily, as the existing imbalances poorly convert cholesterol into healthy hormones, and therefore blood levels increase.
Bottom line: By increasing your vitamin A via high-quality A2, grass-fed, and raw dairy if you have access to it, cod liver oil, or beef liver and by supporting the thyroid with copper-rich foods such as raw oysters and bee products, you can ensure the cholesterol you eat will serve as your beauty food from here on out, and help your hormones to thrive.
Ashley Lange is a certified IHP (Integrative Health Practitioner), wellness innovator, and writer based in San Diego, CA. When she’s not with her pup at dog beach or in the mountains skiing with family, she enjoys empowering others through research-forward writing and holistic skin education.