Cholesterol...The Good and Bad
Is cholesterol really such a problem after all?
Based upon what your doctor and the media declare, you would think that cholesterol has been determined to be the biggest health issue in the developed world today. Many foods and food groups are now shunned and even blamed for the cholesterol epidemic. For me to say that there has been a major misunderstanding of the whole cholesterol question would be an understatement. Cholesterol has to be in the top three medical topics talked about today.
Fats are now demonized and only recently have debates begun to surface about the difference between good and bad fats. We truly need to deepen our understanding of the difference between good fats and bad fats. A good rule of thumb is to stay away from hydrogenated oils and to get more Omega 3's from chia and flax seeds. Frankly, considering fats to be demons is harming your health. Cholesterol is in fact an essential portion of optimal health. Without it our brains do not function properly and even our cell membranes begin to deteriorate.
Cholesterol is a soft, waxy substance present in all your cells and also in your blood. It is used to make vitamin D, cell membranes, hormones, and certain liver chemicals that aid in fat digestion. It is also essential for brain and neurological function. A vast majority of the cholesterol in your body is made in your liver. This is one reason why it is so important to protect, rebuild and also cleanse the liver. There are two main types, HDL and LDL. HDL cholesterol brings cholesterol from your arteries and cells to your liver to be reused and sent elsewhere where it is needed. We are told that our total cholesterol should ideally stay below 200 and that 300 is almost a certain sign of heart disease. As many of you have recently heard, in the last 6 years those numbers have become a downwardly moving target, with doctors now recommending statin or cholesterol lowering drugs to patients that were previously considered normal and risk free. Obviously this has become a major boon for the pharmaceutical companies that have seen record sales in this class of drugs that often come with particularly dangerous side effects.
For us to be better informed we need to understand that both types of cholesterol are in fact fats and proteins combined. This is why they are called lipoproteins, lipo coming from lipid or fat. Cholesterol is a vehicle for carrying fats bound to proteins from cell to cell. In this bound for it moves better in the blood. We need to think of cholesterol as our friend rather than our enemy. No life form can exist without it. In fact many within the natural health community believe that abstaining from fats is one of the major reasons for the upsurge in brain and neurologically related disease forms such as MS, Parkinson's, Lou Gehrig's and other problems. Many now agree that this obsession with lowering cholesterol has become one of the biggest travesties in modern medical history, and is also responsible for many hormonal disorders, since without cholesterol our bodies cannot make essential hormones such as estrogen and testosterone. Cholesterol is also converted in the skin into a precursor compound that the liver and kidneys then make into vitamin D. Adequate safe sun exposure is the optimal way to create optimal levels of vitamin D.
Another misunderstanding is the role of cholesterol in inflammation with some past medical journals naming cholesterol as a culprit in arterial and venal inflammation. Inflammation is not bad by the way. It is the body's way of mobilizing the immune system to fight invading viruses and bacteria. When there is a wound the site becomes inflamed and immune cells rush there to fight the infection. Many people have weakened immune systems and benefit greatly from immune system boosters derived from potent herbs and often from medicinal mushrooms. Scars form to protect the wound and similarly such scars form in the arteries. They are a plaque like substance. Cholesterol then comes in as a repair agent, because it is necessary in the creation of cell membranes and thus for the repair of all cells, even those in the arteries. Whenever there are damaged cells in the body the liver will make more cholesterol to aid in the repair process.
The main problem here is that many doctors still freak out when they see cholesterol circulating in the blood, believing it to be the precursor to heart disease, rather than realizing that it is in fact being sent by the liver to repair damage and inflammation. For certain, chronic inflammation can contribute to heart disease and there are now tests to determine inflammatory levels in the blood. The test is known as a C reactive protein test. Basically if your number is above 3 milligrams (mg), you have a high level of inflammation. Boosting your immune system with immune system boosters is very important here. A level of 1 mg is considered normal.
Unfortunately the obsession with lowering cholesterol may be preventing the body from repairing itself and thus contributing to more deaths rather than saving folks. We need to let cholesterol do its job within the picture of a healthy lifestyle that helps prevent damage in the first place. When we have low levels of cholesterol, we are more prone to disorders in the nervous system, from depression, mood disorders and MS to Parkinson's and even suicide because the nervous system has a high need for cholesterol in its cell membranes. It needs more insulation because it is responsible for sending electrical signals from the brain, through the nerves to the rest of the body. Cholesterol also assists in the metabolism of various important brain chemicals. It is by no mean the only compound needed for a healthy nervous system. Good levels of B complex are also essential and these can be found in whole grains and certain supplements.
So let's reexamine this whole picture. Our doctors are telling us to keep our cholesterol under 200 or so, while I believe that keeping it slightly above 200 would be better. Who benefitted from recommendations for lower cholesterol levels? Big Pharma, to achieve such low levels, is recommending that doctors give their patients not just one, but often a cocktail of cholesterol lowering statin drugs. Who pays? The patients. Who benefits? Big Pharma.
The push to dramatically lower cholesterol has been around for a while. However in 2004, a government run entity for cholesterol education,, began advising people with or at risk of heart disease to make a concerted effort to lower their LDL cholesterol to what amounts to very low levels. Prior to that new statement a reading of 130-milligrams for LDL cholesterol was deemed acceptable. They are now recommending less than 100. To achieve such low readings doctors are having to prescribe cocktails of different cholesterol-lowering drugs, most of which have notable side effects, and all of this with little real evidence to substantiate such a practice. Even leading scientists recognize the lack of scientific evidence that supports such low targets. The unfortunate truth is that all but one of the doctors on the panel making these recommendations had been well remunerated by the very companies that manufacture the proposed statin drugs. The revised guidelines dramatically increased the market for these companies.
In 99.9% of people taking these medications, there is no good evidence to suggest that it benefits them. It very well may hurt them. The way Statin drugs work is by inhibiting an enzyme in your liver that is used to make cholesterol. Statin drugs also deplete your body of CoQ10, which is beneficial for your heart and muscles and which assists in energy production. Without it you are almost guaranteed to experience fatigue, muscle weakness, and at some point heart failure. I still find it hard to understand why anyone would take a drug whose side affects range from kidney and liver damage to memory loss, higher cancer risk and poor immune function.
Smoke and mirrors are the rule of thumb for big Pharma when it comes to making money. False advertising is also a big part of that strategy, where data is manipulated and misrepresented to convince the public and doctors of the wisdom that lies in taking their prescription drugs, when that wisdom is about as far from wise as humanly possible. One of the most widely prescribed drugs, Lipitor, for example, only prevents one more heart attack per hundred people than sugar pills and yet their ad boasts a 36% reduction in heart attacks. Big Pharma claims that statins have a beneficial effect on inflammation in your body, and can thus reduce your risk of strokes or heart attacks.
The good news is that while inflammation is the principle thing to be concerned about, you can naturally lower inflammation and thus avoid all of the side effects of statins. We can trace the cholesterol and animal fat fear mongering back to the 50's when top researchers formulated lipid theories that linked fat consumption to heart disease. Unfortunately their theory was swallowed, hook line and sinker. From then on we the public have been told to stop eating butter, red meat, animal fats, eggs, dairy etc.... The research was, as is often the case, manipulated to favor a certain outcome. This very same story has deprived people of essential fats and lead to a gross overconsumption of carbohydrates, most of which are refined and this itself has lead to a dramatic increase in diabetes and many other health problems. When you don't get enough fat in your diet, you crave, because you are hungry. The problem with the foods people switched to is that they lack nutritional value, especially in the realm of fats and when folks reach for processed foods with high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oils, they have climbed on a health destroying roller coaster, since all of these foods cause the very inflammation that causes the problem in the first place.
We need to return to a diet that gives us optimal nutrition.
If you want to have healthy cholesterol, know that you need good fats in your diet, especially omega 3's from chia and flax. Also reduce your consumption of fructose, even very sweet fruits, until your numbers are back around 200. Consume as much of your diet raw as you can. As you reduce inflammation, your liver will produce less cholesterol, since it will have fewer fires to put out. When you do eat fats, use raw dairy products, raw nuts and seeds, lightly cooked farm raised eggs, avocados and coconut oil. Get regular exercise and reduce your stress levels.