November 26


Your High Cholesterol & Gut Health – Linking the Two

By Sunny Brigham, MS, CNS, LDN

November 26, 2018

minutes read time


High cholesterol is a topic of concern for many individuals.  Many worry about their high cholesterol and others wonder if it’s genetic.  I see many individuals that feel their cholesterol is genetic.  Only about 5% of every with high cholesterol actually has a genetic link to it.  It’s pretty rare.

So, what causes high cholesterol?  If it’s not genetic, it’s usually inflammation.  And where does inflammation start?  Usually in the gut.  In this blog, we’re going to talk a little about cholesterol and a lot about calming inflammation to reduce cholesterol levels.

Let’s jump to it!

High Cholesterol

There are a variety of reasons cholesterol in the body can rise.  Hypothyroid can cause it to spike.  Menopause can cause a spike as well.  Genetics, although rare, can also cause it to spike.  It’s usually never cholesterol contained in food though.

We need cholesterol to make and move hormones throughout the body.  It’s a necessity for healthy hormone function.  Because of that, we make a good majority of our own cholesterol.  If we consume too much via food, we stop producing as much to balance it out.  Dietary cholesterol has very little impact on overall lab values.

Hypothyroidism and menopause can cause a spike in levels.  Both are caused by a lack of specific hormones.  If we don’t have hormones, we don’t need as much.  It just takes time for the body to realize this and catch up.

So, what causes high cholesterol?  By and large…inflammation.  And what causes inflammation?  Lifestyle.  Lack of exercise, continued intake of foods our body doesn’t like, stress, etc.

I wrote a pretty detailed blog about cholesterol last year.  This blog goes into detail on exactly what it is.  It defines the different letters for you.  And gives you 5 key strategies for lowering your lab values.  At the top of the blog, you can sign up to receive my cholesterol lowering guide.

Gut Health

I feel like I talk about gut health a lot.  You probably feel that way as well.  But that’s because the gut is instrumental when it comes to inflammation and overall health.  Why?  Because a good portion of the immune system lies within the digestive tract.  When I say good portion…I’m talking 70-80%!

When we consume foods our body doesn’t agree with, the immune system activates.  In the very same fashion as if we were sick.  When the immune system is activated, it kicks off the inflammatory response in the body.

When we do this repeatedly, we have a lot of inflammation coursing about.  High cholesterol also creates inflammation in the body.  It’s a vicious cycle.  One that we need to stop.

When I have someone in my office that has high cholesterol, the first thing we do it look at diet.  I know I said dietary cholesterol has little impact on overall cholesterol levels.  But that’s not what I’m looking for.  I’m looking for pro-inflammatory foods.  Foods that increase triglycerides.  These foods would be excess alcohol consumption and refined carbohydrates (cookies, cakes, etc).  I’m looking for foods that increase the bad cholesterol.  But really, I’m looking for foods that spark the immune system.

If we can find those foods and remove them, cholesterol levels will come down over time.  These foods are usually dairy, sugar, gluten, corn, processed meats, and the like.  Removing them is the starting point.  Healing is crucial.  I use targeted supplements to help with cell rehabilitation.  Usually, individuals start to feel better in a few weeks.  We continue to build on this as we monitor cholesterol levels.

For many, I prefer testing to find exactly what foods are triggering the immune system in the body.  It’s more comprehensive than trial and error.  And foods can be missed.  I’ve had clients test positive for rice, flax, and romaine lettuce.  All things that are considered healthy for most of the population.

We target the gut because this is where most inflammation starts.

Calming Inflammation

When we find the food triggers, we remove them.  Like I mentioned, we do this through trial and error or specific testing.  I offer both options to my clients with the pros and cons of both routes.  But this is only part of the process.

Another piece is adding in foods that are specific to reducing inflammation.  For this, I love a good ginger/ turmeric latte.  I wrote a blog on the benefits of ginger and turmeric for inflammation.  You can read that bad boy here.

Ginger helps reduce inflammation inside the digestive tract.  When I’m feeling a little bloated from a meal, a nice ginger tea usually does the trick.  Turmeric helps to reduce inflammation outside the digestive tract.  It helps reduce joint pain, cholesterol, and overall inflammation.  It’s actually been shown to be more effective at inflammation than NSAIDs.  It’s a heavily studied food.

If you have inflammation or suspect that you do, I definitely recommend a ginger/ turmeric latte daily.  Once you get the recipe down, it takes about 3 minutes to make one.


Cholesterol half-life ranges in the minutes.  So, 5-minutes from now, your cholesterol reading can be different.  But we don’t test cholesterol that way.  Because if you’re not making positive changes to reduce your inflammation, it’s likely not going to change too much.

When working with a client, I like to see cholesterol tested again after 90 days.  We can do 60 days but most insurance won’t cover that cost.  However, you can always pay out of pocket to have it done sooner.  If you’ve been working hard to reduce inflammation by changing your diet, getting more sleep, reducing stress, and exercising more…you’ll likely see changes within 60 days.

Now you know that most inflammation starts in the digestive tract.  What can you do today to start lowering your inflammation?


Herbert, K. E., & Erridge, C. (2018). Regulation of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol by intestinal inflammation and the acute phase response. Cardiovascular research114(2), 226–232.

Tall, A. R., & Yvan-Charvet, L. (2015). Cholesterol, inflammation and innate immunity. Nature reviews. Immunology15(2), 104–116.

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