Is the amount of cholesterol the body produces affected by how much cholesterol you take in with food?

Is the amount of cholesterol the body produces affected by how much cholesterol you take in with food?

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In the past I've been told multiple times that if you don't eat foods containing cholesterol, your body will increase its production of cholesterol to balance out the lack of nutritional cholesterol. On the other hand, if you eat sufficiently much cholesterol, the body will adapt its production of cholesterol in the other direction.

What evidence is there to support this statement?

Here's a study in which they measured a decrease in endogenous cholesterol synthesis after various amounts of dietary cholesterol: Dietary Cholesterol Feeding Suppresses Human Cholesterol Synthesis Measured by Deuterium Incorporation and Urinary Mevalonic Acid Levels (Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology, 1996):

The objective of this study was to measure the response of cholesterol biosynthesis in subjects to three different amounts of dietary cholesterol: 50 (low), 350 (medium), and 650 (high) mg cholesterol per 2800 kcal. Individuals with low (n=7), normal (n=12), and elevated (n=11) plasma cholesterol concentrations consumed in random order solid-food test diets (15%, 55%, and 30% of energy as protein, carbohydrate, and fat, respectively) at each dietary cholesterol level. The three diets were consumed for 4 weeks each, and each dietary phase was separated by a 4-week washout period. During the final week of each diet, 0.7 g D2O was given per kilogram of body water and deuterium incorporation into the erythrocyte cholesterol pool was measured for 24 hours. Urinary mevalonate levels were also determined in samples obtained during two consecutive 24-hour periods. Both techniques provided measurements of whole-body cholesterol biosynthesis. In all subjects the cholesterol synthesis rate as measured by deuterium incorporation was significantly lower (P<.05) after the transition from low- to medium- and low- to high-cholesterol diets. Urinary mevalonate excretion decreased after the change from the medium- to high- (P<.05) and low- to high- (P<.01) cholesterol diets. Although correspondence between the two methods was poor, they both indicated some suppression of cholesterol synthesis by dietary cholesterol. The response of cholesterogenesis to different amounts of dietary cholesterol was related to the rate of synthesis under depressed conditions of the low-cholesterol diet. These findings indicate modest downregulation of synthesis in response to dietary cholesterol in humans, independent of plasma cholesterol levels.

Metabolic responses to increased dietary cholesterol potentially include reduced endogenous synthesis, decreased absorption, and increased biliary excretion of cholesterol.

In some people, who are cholesterol hyperresponders, dietary cholesterol does not effectively suppress endogenous cholesterol synthesis, so it results in elevated blood cholesterol levels (Comprehensive Biotechnology, 2011). In one study, a decrease in dietary cholesterol intake resulted in a decrease of blood cholesterol in hyperresponders but not in hyporesponders: Endogenous cholesterol synthesis, fecal steroid excretion and serum lanosterol in subjects with high or low response of serum cholesterol to dietary cholesterol (Clinical Nutrition, 1986):

In this study we addressed the question whether hypo- and hyper-responders to dietary cholesterol differ with regard to the flexibility of endogenous cholesterol synthesis after changes in cholesterol intake. Whole-body cholesterol synthesis was measured as faecal excretion of neutral steroids and bile acids minus cholesterol intake. In addition, we determined serum concentrations of lanosterol, a precursor of cholesterol and a possible indicator of cholesterol biosynthetic activity. The study was carried out with 2 hyper- and 4 hypo-responders; these subjects had shown a consistently high or low response of serum cholesterol to a decrease in dietary cholesterol in two previous experiments.

The subjects received controlled high- (on average 697 mg of cholesterol per day) and low-cholesterol (109 mg/day) diets for periods of 4 weeks in succession; cholesterol was the only dietary variable. The two hyper-responders again showed a significant decrease in serum cholesterol. There was essentially no decrease in serum cholesterol in three of the four hypo-responders. The decrease in cholesterol intake caused an increase in cholesterol synthesis in five out of the six subjects.

In conclusion, in most people, dietary intake of cholesterol does not increase blood cholesterol levels because of decreased absorption and endogenous synthesis and increased excretion of cholesterol.

This question has also been answered on MedicalSciences.SE:

"The net daily synthesis of cholesterol is equal to the amount of cholesterol lost in the feces minus the dietary cholesterol"

The body synthesizes an amount approximately equal to the amount it absorbs

Source: Balancing Cholesterol Synthesis and Absorption in the Gastrointestinal Tract David E. Cohen, M.D., Ph.D.

copied from this answer

MYTH: People with high cholesterol are more prone to heart attacks.
TRUTH: Young and middle-aged men with cholesterol levels over 350 are slightly more at risk for heart attacks. Those who have cholesterol levels just below 350 are at no greater risk than those whose cholesterol is very low. For elderly men and for women of all ages, high cholesterol is associated with a longer lifespan.

MYTH: Cholesterol & saturated fat clog arteries.
TRUTH: There is very little cholesterol or saturated fat in the arterial plaque or clogs. Most of the material is a calcium deposit akin to lime and most of the fatty acids are unsaturated.

MYTH: Eating saturated fat and cholesterol-rich foods will cause cholesterol levels to rise and make people more susceptible to heart disease.
TRUTH: Many studies show no relationship between diet and cholesterol levels there is no evidence that saturated fat and cholesterol-rich food contribute to heart disease. As Americans have cut back on saturated fat and cholesterol-rich foods, rates of heart disease have gone up.

MYTH: Cholesterol-lowering drugs have saved many lives.
TRUTH: In the two most recent trials, involving over 10,000 subjects, cholesterol-lowering did not result in any improvement in outcome.

MYTH: Countries that have a high consumption of animal fat and cholesterol have higher rates of heart disease.
TRUTH: There are many exceptions to this observation, such as France and Spain. Furthermore, an association (called a “risk factor”) is not the same as a cause. In wealthy countries where people eat a lot of animal foods, many other factors exist that can contribute to heart disease.

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How much cholesterol should you have per day?

It is common for people to wonder about how much cholesterol they consume and how to control their cholesterol levels.

While there is no specific limit on how much cholesterol people should have per day, many organizations do have guidelines about the fatty foods that contain cholesterol.

Experts used to believe that eating foods high in cholesterol would lead to heart disease and other health conditions. However, more recent findings suggest that the link between cholesterol levels and foods is more complex.

Keep reading to learn more about how much cholesterol a person should eat each day.

Share on Pinterest People should try to replace saturated fats with unsaturated fats whenever possible.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), people should follow the recommendations for cholesterol and fat consumption found in 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans .

  • Making sure saturated fats contribute less than 10% of total calories per day.
  • Avoiding all trans fats.
  • Replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats whenever possible.

Cholesterol is a fat-like, waxy substance that the body produces in the liver. People produce more than enough cholesterol each day from proteins, sugar, and fats. All cells throughout the body contain cholesterol.

Extra cholesterol only comes from eating animal products. There is no cholesterol in vegetables, beans, or fruits. All the cholesterol a person consumes in their food is called dietary cholesterol.

Previously, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) suggested that a person should consume 300 milligrams (mg) per day or less of dietary cholesterol.

However, as a review of studies pointed out, the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines no longer makes this recommendation. According to the same review, there is no evidence to suggest that dietary cholesterol has any links to cardiovascular disease.

However, higher levels of cholesterol are often in foods that contain saturated fat, trans fat, and added sugar. Unlike cholesterol, these substances are all linked to cardiovascular disease and other conditions that affect a person’s health.

A person who focuses on reducing saturated fat, trans fat, and added sugars will naturally consume less cholesterol overall and help improve their health.

When a person eats too many foods that contain saturated or trans fat, the liver starts to produce too much low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol.

People often refer to LDL cholesterol as bad cholesterol because it is responsible for creating deposits that can clog a person’s arteries. As a result, guidelines recommend that a person limits the calories from saturated and trans fats to less than 10 % of their daily calorie intake.

However, at around the same time as the USDA published its guide, the American Heart Association (AHA) recommended cutting the daily intake of saturated fats to between 5% and 6% of the total number of calories.

Sardines and Heart Health

Is Crab Meat High in Cholesterol?

Aiming to lower unhealthy cholesterol counts will lower your risk for heart disease. Although sardines contain significant amounts of cholesterol and a fair amount of saturated fat, they generally contain less total and saturated fat than their protein counterparts of red meat and poultry. Consuming seafood, such as sardines, is actually recommended by the American Heart Association for heart health because it contains omega-3 fatty acids, such as EPA and DHA. Sardines contain fewer omega-3 fatty acids than salmon and tuna, but one 3-oz. serving of canned sardines provides 0.402 g of EPA and 0.432 g of DHA.

Cholesterol Facts You Should Know

Since you will see the word “cholesterol” on just about every food package you buy, it’s important to know what it is, what it does, and how much is safe. Below are the important cholesterol facts you need to know.

What cholesterol is

Cholesterol is not a fat. Biochemically it’s called a “sterol.” It contains no calories, so the body cannot derive any energy from it. Cholesterol forms an integral part of the cell membranes throughout your body, sort of like the mortar that holds the brick wall together. It is particularly important in the cellular structure of the brain and central nervous system, and is an important component of the myelin sheath that provides insulation to the nerves. The body uses cholesterol to make bile acids, which are necessary for proper food digestion. It’s also a vital part of adrenal and sex hormones (estrogen, progesterone, testosterone), and it helps the body manufacture vitamin D.

Only the cell membranes of animal tissue contain cholesterol. Cell membranes of plants are composed of fiber, not cholesterol. When you see “no cholesterol” on a package of fruit, vegetables, grains, or even vegetable oil, don’t believe that the manufacturer has done you a favor by removing the cholesterol. There was no cholesterol in these foods to begin with. While cholesterol is essential to life, the body makes all the cholesterol it needs. You can live quite well, even better, with eating little or no cholesterol.

What cholesterol does

Cholesterol enters the body from saturated fats in animal sources, such as meat, poultry, egg yolks, liver, butter, cheese, and other dairy products. The cholesterol goes to the liver where it joins the cholesterol that is made there. It is transported from the liver to the cells by low-density lipoproteins (LDL), which acts like a nutritional ferry boat loading up the cholesterol and navigating through the bloodstream, stopping at cells and depositing it to the cells that need it. If a cell already has enough, it “refuses delivery” of the cholesterol cargo. The excess LDL stays in the blood where the cholesterol is deposited in the walls of arteries, causing atherosclerotic plaque. The more plaque that builds up, the narrower the arteries become, until eventually the blood supply to vital organs is reduced. This is why LDLs are known as the “bad cholesterol.”*

But take heart, a nutritional rescuer is also present in the bloodstream, the high density lipoproteins, or HDLs. These are known as “good cholesterol,” since they travel like a vacuum cleaner through the bloodstream, picking up excess cholesterol in the bloodstream, and also possibly sucking the cholesterol from the fat-laden plaques. The HDLs carry this excess cholesterol back to the liver, which converts it to bile, which is eliminated into the intestines. How your liver handles cholesterol is determined primarily by genetics, and secondarily by your diet.

While this is an oversimplification of a complicated biochemical process, it helps us understand two conclusions:

  • Any diet that raises cholesterol and LDLs and/or lowers HDL is bad.
  • Any diet that lowers cholesterol and/or raises HDL is good.


How much cholesterol do you need?

If your body has just the right amount of cholesterol, HDL, and LDL, it is in cholesterol balance. But how much is the right amount?

Home-made vs. dietary cholesterol

For most people, about 80 percent of the cholesterol in their blood is made by their own body, with the rest coming from their diet. In fact, your body needs cholesterol so much that it makes around 3,000 milligrams per day that’s ten times the maximum recommendation for daily dietary cholesterol. It is estimated that around thirty percent of people are sensitive to the cholesterol-raising effects of dietary cholesterol. Normally, when a healthy person eats high cholesterol foods, the liver reduces its own cholesterol production to keep blood cholesterol at a healthy level. In cholesterol-sensitive individuals, this internal monitoring mechanism doesn’t operate, so that their blood cholesterol level goes up when they eat high-cholesterol foods.

One theory that explains cholesterol sensitivity is humans are by nature vegetarians. Originally, human bodies were not genetically equipped to metabolize dietary cholesterol, since plants are cholesterol-free. As the human diet began to include animal products, some people’s bodies developed metabolic ways to dispose of excess cholesterol and some didn’t. People who descended from the ones that didn’t adapt are the cholesterol-sensitive ones.

Gender difference with cholesterol

Women tend to have higher levels of HDL than men, since female sex hormones release HDL and male sex hormones lower HDL. At menopause, estrogen production drops, and so does HDL. Just another mid-life biochemical quirk that should stimulate menopausal-age women to start an HDL-raising exercise program.

What foods cause high cholesterol?

Eating foods high in saturated fats and trans fats can raise your LDL and total cholesterol levels. Saturated fats are found in red meats, full-fat dairy products, and many processed foods. Trans fats are sometimes listed on food labels as “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil.” Trans fats are so unhealthy that the Food and Drug Administration has actually banned them as of January 1, 2021. Foods that can contribute to high cholesterol include:

  • Fatty beef, lamb or pork
  • Poultry with skin
  • Butter, cheese and other dairy products made with whole milk
  • Lard and shortening
  • Saturated cooking oils
  • Store-bought baked goods
  • Fried foods
  • Many processed foods and snacks

You should read your food labels closely. Even if a label says the food has “No Cholesterol” in big letters on the front of the box, the Nutrition Facts label on the back or side might still tell you that the food contains saturated or trans fats.

It is better to substitute mono-unsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) for saturated and trans fats in your diet. Eating these good fats can actually help you lower LDL levels and total cholesterol. MUFAs are found in many healthy cooking oil choices:

  • Olive oil
  • Avocado oil
  • Canola oil
  • Safflower oil
  • Sunflower oil
  • Sesame oil
  • Peanut oil

A diet that helps you lower your cholesterol can include:

  • Plenty of vegetables and fruits
  • Avocados
  • Tree nuts like almonds, walnuts, and pecans
  • Fatty fish like salmon, trout, tuna, mackerel, herring, and sardines
  • High-fiber foods like oatmeal and oat bran
  • Low-fat dairy foods

Some foods like margarine, yogurt and orange juice can have sterols or stanols added to them. These plant-based substances help your body block the absorption of cholesterol from your diet and lower LDL levels.

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The Liver And Vitamin Regulation

One of the busiest organs in terms of cholesterol production in our bodies is the liver, which regulates the level of our blood cholesterol. The liver also puts a lot of cholesterol into bile production. Yes, bile is made out of cholesterol. Without bile we would not be able to digest and absorb fats and fat-soluble vitamins. Bile emulsifies fats in other words, it mixes them with water, so that digestive enzymes can get to them. After it completes its mission, most of the bile gets reabsorbed in the digestive system and brought back to the liver for recycling. In fact, 95 percent of our bile is recycled because the building blocks of bile, one of which is cholesterol, are too precious for the body to waste. Nature doesn’t do anything without good reason. This example of the careful recycling of cholesterol alone should have given us a good idea about its importance for the body!

Bile is essential for absorbing fat-soluble vitamins: vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin K and vitamin E. We cannot live without these vitamins. Apart from ensuring that fat-soluble vitamins get digested and absorbed properly, cholesterol is the major building block of one of these vitamins: vitamin D. Vitamin D is made from the cholesterol in our skin when it is exposed to sunlight. In those times of the year when there isn’t much sunlight, we can get this vitamin from cholesterol-rich foods: cod liver oil, fish, shellfish, butter, lard and egg yolks. Our recent misguided fears of the sun and avoidance of cholesterol-rich foods have created an epidemic of vitamin D deficiency in the Western world.

Unfortunately, apart from sunlight and cholesterol-rich foods there is no other appropriate way to get vitamin D. Of course, there are supplements, but most of them contain vitamin D2, which is made by irradiating mushrooms and other plants. This vitamin is not the same as the natural vitamin D. It does not work as effectively and it is easy to get a toxic level of it. In fact, almost all cases of vitamin D toxicity ever recorded were cases where this synthetic vitamin D2 had been used. Toxicity is almost impossible with natural vitamin D obtained from sunlight or cholesterol-rich foods because the body knows how to deal with an excess of natural substances. What the body does not know how to deal with is an excess of synthetic vitamin D2.

Vitamin D has been designed to work as a team with another fat-soluble vitamin: vitamin A. That is why foods rich in one tend to be rich in the other. So, by taking cod liver oil, for example, we can obtain both vitamins at the same time. As we grow older, our ability to produce vitamin D in the skin under sunlight is considerably diminished. Taking foods rich in vitamin D is therefore particularly important for older people. For the rest of us, sensible sunbathing is a wonderful, healthy and enjoyable way of getting a good supply of vitamin D.

Skin cancer, blamed on sunshine, is not caused by the sun. It is caused by trans fats from vegetable oils and margarine and other toxins stored in the skin. In addition, some of the sunscreens that people use contain chemicals that have been proven to cause skin cancer 3 .


Fructose is a type of simple sugar that is found in small quantities in fruits and in much larger quantities in concentrated sweeteners such as honey, high-fructose corn syrup and sucrose, or table sugar. Unlike the other simple sugars, glucose and lactose, fructose can only be metabolized by the liver. While small amounts of fructose, such as would be found in typical servings of whole fruits, can be used to supply the liver's energy needs, large doses, which can result from consuming large amounts of soda or other products containing concentrated sweeteners, have been shown to cause the liver to synthesize a particularly dangerous type of cholesterol know as very low density lipoprotein, or VLDL. For example, an article in the June 2009 issue of the "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition" found that large doses of fructose increased VLDL levels 51 percent in normal individuals and 110 percent in those with a family history of diabetes 2.