Cholesterol: Enemy #1 … or #1 Friend? – Part 3

This month, we’re talking cholesterol. Check out Part 1 and 2 to learn why cholesterol isn’t the enemy, when it can go awry, and how to keep it in check. This final post in our three-part series is tackling the connection between sugar, inflammation, stress and cholesterol.

As we discussed in Part 1, cholesterol isn’t necessarily a problem unless you have injuries in your blood vessels. Blood vessels start getting injured as early as childhood. Infections and viruses can damage vessels, though the most controllable culprits of blood vessel injury are excess sugar in the blood, chronic inflammation, and pressure on vessel walls.

Got a sweet tooth that won’t let up? Or perhaps a love for refined grains like crackers, pretzels, bread or cookies? You’re actually hurting more than just your waistline! While the mechanism by which sugar causes direct injury to vessels is not clear yet, it’s been well established that sugar produces higher levels of pro-inflammatory chemicals that create lesions in your blood vessels. 1 The same lesions are created by excessive stress from a high-burn career or challenging family environment.

If you’ve read Part 1 and Part 2 of this blog series, you’ll know that lesions in your blood vessels require cholesterol for healing. But…. a lot of lesions from excess sugar PLUS high cholesterol in your blood are a bad combination for blood pressure.

Are you thinking, “ Ugh, I’m doomed!!” Don’t worry—there’s still hope.

In comes the anti-inflammatory diet. Anti-inflammatory foods have been researched and evaluated to do exactly what it sounds like – lower inflammation. While acute inflammation is the natural response of your immune system to fight infection or heal injured cells and tissue, chronic inflammation is bad news.

Anti-inflammatory foods are part of your army for fighting off chronic inflammation from stress, infection or blood sugar problems. In a complex algorithm of over 20 different factors, hundreds of foods are rated on a scale between -200+ to 200+. The higher the rating the more beneficial the food is for fighting inflammation.

Some of the most anti-inflammatory foods include:

  • Fruits and vegetables (of course!)
  • Healthy fats including olive oil, walnuts, avocados
  • Seeds like flax, chia and hemp seeds
  • Legumes and beans
  • Mushrooms
  • Wild fish and seafood like salmon, sardines or cod
  • Whole grains (not refined)
  • Dark chocolate (70% + cacao) and more

I bet we can all stand to add more of these healthy anti-inflammatory foods in our diet, especially when they naturally fight the damage caused by stress and other factors of normal living.

Taking control of our health can go beyond diet and lifestyle changes too. If you’re overweight, have a history of high stress or tend to love your refined grains and sugar, you may want to consider requesting some additional tests now before chronic disease sets in.

The C Reactive Protein (CRP)test measures the level of inflammation in your body. There are two types of CRP tests – one measures general inflammation and another measures inflammation in your blood vessels. Both are useful depending on the type of risk factors you have. Determining whether inflammation is present is key to determining the urgency of your action steps.

When it comes to blood sugar issues, knowing sooner vs. later is critical. But, when your fasting blood sugar is on the high end of normal, it still is considered normal. Get ahead of pre-diabetes by requesting a more complete set of tests

Fasting blood sugar is only one piece of the picture, there are two others! Understanding how your blood sugar changes after you’ve eaten a meal is critical too - it’s called the post-meal glucose response test. For example, if you’re blood sugar stays elevated after a meal then perhaps your not producing enough insulin or your insulin receptors aren’t working properly to bring your blood sugar down to normal levels. Finally, you’ll want to look at your Hemoglobin A1c test. The A1c test measures the percentage of hemoglobin (a protein in red blood cells) that have sugar stuck to them. Sugar is sticky – literally! Too much sugar lingering in the bloodstream for too long will eventually stick to nearby proteins like the hemoglobin protein in your red blood cells.

There are many steps you can tackle based on the information shared this week!

First, which anti-inflammatory foods are your favorite and can be boosted in your daily diet?

Next, do you know the state of your inflammatory or blood sugar health? If you have risk factors, it may be time to push your doctor to get tested. Sometimes we need a sift kick in the butt before we make important changes a priority.

Which actions step will you tackle this week?

Esposito, K., Nappo, F., Marfella, R., Giugliano, G., Giugliano, F., Ciotola, M., ... & Giugliano, D. (2002). Inflammatory cytokine concentrations are acutely increased by hyperglycemia in humans role of oxidative stress. Circulation, 106(16), 2067-2072.

Gropper, S., & Smith, J. (2012). Advanced nutrition and human metabolism. Cengage Learning.

Libby, P., Ridker, P. M., & Maseri, A. (2002). Inflammation and atherosclerosis. Circulation, 105(9), 1135-1143.

Weil, Andrew. (n.d.). Elevated C-reactive Protein (CRP). Retrieved on 9/22/2015 from