In today’s world, when a person is diagnosed with high cholesterol levels, many conventional family and primary care doctors will merely treat the cholesterol levels with a statin, a prescription that is designed to lower your LDL. And in most cases they will also recommend a person adopt a low-cholesterol diet in addition to taking this medication. But, High Cholesterol is just the canary in the coal mine so to speak.
High cholesterol levels are your body’s way of warning you that something more complicated may be occurring, and it is our mission, as functional medicine providers, to get down to the ROOT of the issue instead of just treating the surface level symptoms.
With this in mind, let’s take a look at the types of cholesterol, what factors can cause high cholesterol and a functional medicine approach to the treatment of high cholesterol.
What is Cholesterol?
When a person has high cholesterol levels, this means that there is too much “bad” cholesterol or LDL in his or her bloodstream. Unfortunately, high cholesterol can be the leading cause* of the hardening of arteries, which, if not caught early enough, can cause stroke, heart disease, and peripheral artery disease.
Cholesterol is a lipid (a fat-like molecule that circulates in your bloodstream) that is produced naturally in the body’s liver.
Cholesterol’s primary functions include bile production to assist in the digestion of food, production of sex hormones, and the creation of fat-soluble vitamins like Vitamin D. Cholesterol is also a building block for human tissues. So, while cholesterol is a necessary part of our bodies and helps our body to generate and function optimally, like most things, too much cholesterol is a bad thing.
*Most often, other factors are present.
Cholesterol: The Good & The “Bad”
HDL stands for high-density lipoprotein and is often referred to as “good” cholesterol. This is because HDL helps to remove excess cholesterol from the body by way of the liver. LDL, on the other hand, which stands for low-density lipoproteins, is known as the “bad” cholesterol.
LDL takes cholesterol to the arteries, where, over time, it can collect on your artery walls, causing a buildup of plaque, also known as atherosclerosis. But just checking and looking at “LDL” particles alone (a standard practice with conventional doctors) is not specific enough to determine what troublemaker LDL particles are truly present. There are small, sticky, dangerous LDL particles (sdLDL and LPa) that are causing the serious problems as opposed to just all “LDL” particles. The accumulation of plaque on the artery walls from these small, sticky LDL particles combined with inflammation is what can cause a reduction in oxygen to the organs since the blood has to work harder to push through the smaller, plaque lined artery walls, also known as high blood pressure. Furthermore, plaque can break off of the artery walls and cause blockages in blood flow. When plaque breaks off and travels to the heart, heart attacks often occur. When plaque breaks off and makes its way to the brain, a stroke can happen.
Causes of High Cholesterol
Since high cholesterol doesn’t present itself with a “set” series of symptoms, people don’t usually find out that they have high cholesterol until a serious event, like a heart attack or stroke occurs. As functional medicine doctors in Oak Brook, IL, we want to help all of our patients reduce their risk of heart disease and stroke through a more detailed functional medicine approach. This requires us to look at the body as a whole, rather than to compartmentalize its functions. Some of the leading underlying contributors to high cholesterol that we see most often in our practice include:
- Metabolic Function and poor blood sugar control
- Unbalanced Thyroid
- Environmental Factors
- Gut Permeability (Leaky Gut)
- Lack of Exercise
Functional Medicine Testing & Treatment of High Cholesterol
Conventional medicine testing, much like the standard treatment for high cholesterol, only takes into consideration a small part of the picture. Often, unless you ask (and even then you may have to fight for more tests) for additional testing, standard procedures will only test total and LDL cholesterol. Only running diagnostics on these leaves too many questions unanswered. When you work with a functional medicine doctor in Oak Brook, IL, we will conduct a lipid panel that includes LDL and HDL cholesterol, total cholesterol, and triglycerides along with the dangerous sticky LDL particle levels and markers for inflammation that put you at the highest risk for health concerns. But that’s not all we want to look at when it comes to high cholesterol. We will also want to have you tested for thyroid issues, hormonal imbalances, and gut inflammation at the very least. Furthermore, we take an in-depth look into any environmental factors that could be impacting your cholesterol levels and, of course, genetics.
Just like testing, a functional medicine approach to treating high cholesterol in Oak Brook, IL, goes beyond the conventional “band-aid” of medication and altering your diet. Though both of those may be necessary for your treatment plan. The main goal in any cholesterol treatment plan, from a conventional standpoint, is to lower your LDL levels while increasing HDL. Functional medicine, on the other hand, seeks to give patients the opportunity to create the life that they WANT to be living by adopting a new lifestyle that allows them to THRIVE.
If your cholesterol levels are out of balance, we help you to find the root cause, and then create and implement sustainable lifestyle changes that will assist in reversing the harmful implications of high cholesterol.
All treatment programs are unique to the individual. We use a variety of different methods and treatment options which include, everything from helping you design a balanced diet and nutrition plan that’s right for your body, detoxification, supplements, exercise, meditation, sleep habits, stress management, and more.
If you are concerned about your cholesterol or if it’s been over a year since you’ve had your levels checked, discuss your options with a functional medicine provider at Vitality Family Health at your earliest convenience. At your initial appointment, we will go over your health history and current health concerns. Once we have laid the groundwork, we will take a proactive approach to get you the answers you need to take back your life on your terms.