Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Cholesterol but Were Afraid to Ask!
Cholesterol has everybody talking, with modern medicine recommending ever-lower levels and pharmaceutical companies promoting ever-increasing numbers of cholesterol-lowering drugs. Do you know what cholesterol really is, why we need it, and why elevated levels are far from the “final word” on heart disease risk? If not, read on.
With all the “bad press” about cholesterol, one would think it should be avoided at all cost. Nothing is further from the truth! Cholesterol is essential to life. It makes up 80% of our body’s cell walls and is a building block for steroid hormones and bile acids. Cholesterol is a precursor to Vitamin D in the skin, and without it, we couldn’t absorb the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K from our food. It gives skin the ability to shed water and is essential to the growth and maintenance of the nervous system. We really do need cholesterol – it’s not the “bad thing” that some would have us believe. Having said that, it is important to know the various kinds of cholesterol and what they do.
First is LDL (Low Density Lipoprotein), the “bad” cholesterol. LDL carries most of the cholesterol in the blood, and this is now thought to be the main source of blockage and damage in the arteries. VLDL (Very Low Density Lipoprotein) performs the same tasks as LDL in terms of transporting fats from the liver to cells, and so may also be dangerous when elevated.
Next is the “good” cholesterol, HDL (High Density Lipoprotein). Its job is to collect excess cholesterol in the blood and transport it back to the liver where it is eliminated from the body. HDL seems to keep LDL from building up on the walls of the arteries, so HDL / LDL ratios are considered by many to be a better indicator of “cholesterol health” and heart disease risk than overall cholesterol levels. High HDL is good, and exercise and niacin are two potent agents for keeping HDL levels high.
Finally, Triglycerides (TG’s) are a form of sugar carried by a fat that circulates in the bloodstream. High levels of triglycerides are an independent risk factor for cardiovascular disease and primarily become elevated by high intakes of dietary carbohydrates.
Humans manufacture cholesterol in the liver – remember, it’s important for normal body functioning. There are several ways the body controls cholesterol production and blood cholesterol levels. The most important of these is in the liver where a chemical receptor senses LDL, and when it has detected “enough,” tells the liver to stop manufacturing more. Damage to this mechanism can occur through normal aging which reduces the number and efficiency of the LDL receptors, and several diseases – most importantly diabetes and low thyroid function. This feedback mechanism (when functioning properly) means that eating foods high in cholesterol simply tells the liver to stop making so much of its own! For many, eating LESS cholesterol causes the liver to manufacture MORE cholesterol!
What to do for high cholesterol
If a conventional doctor found your cholesterol levels to be “high,” you’ve probably received a prescription for the statin-de-jour and a simplistic recommendation to “eat less cholesterol and cut down on the fats.” Statin drugs are being marketed as the best thing since antibiotics but their dangers and expense are rarely mentioned.
Meanwhile, safe and well-proven natural remedies exist to reduce LDL cholesterol levels, total cholesterol levels, triglycerides and other heart risk factors.