For the last 150 years or so we have been brainwashed into believing certain "facts" about cholesterol. Ah, cholesterol - the artery clogging substance found in the fattiest foods that gave name to the "heart attack on a plate". Right? Well, we couldn't be more wrong. For example, did you know that cholesterol is an antioxidant? Or that it is the precursor to Vitamin D and most of your reproductive hormones like estrogen, progesterone and testosterone? Did you know that without cholesterol you would more than likely die?
Even when I can convince my clients that eating lots of saturated fats from good sources is not only beneficial but crucial for their health - I still get the "But, what about my cholesterol?" question.
Let's look deeper at the issue. Cholesterol is a repair substance. It is required to build and maintain cell membranes. That means it exists in every single cell within your body. If there is a lot of cellular damage then cholesterol is sent from the liver to the site of the damage for repair. Now because cholesterol is not water soluble it needs to be carried through the blood by something called a lipoprotein. Low density lipoproteins (LDL) carry cholesterol from the liver to the damage site. High density lipoproteins (HDL) carry excess cholesterol back to the liver for recycling.
Imagine you have a large metal water pipe. Instead of just water sometimes chemicals get sent down the pipe that slowly weaken and compromise the metal bit by bit. After years of this happening a crack forms in the pipe and water starts leaking out. Now let's imagine the best way to fix this leak is to put on some scuba gear and fix it from the inside with a special kind of tape that will cover the crack. Maybe the only way to get into the pipe is through a really small hole so we have a little guy (we'll call him Larry) go through the hole carrying the special tape to cover over the crack. But the tape is kind of temporary so pretty soon the water starts leaking around the edges of the tape while other parts of the pipe start cracking from the neglect as well. So we send a whole bunch of little Larry look-a-likes to fix it. Pretty soon we start layering tape on top of tape and the inside of the pipe gets more and more narrow. This increases the water pressure which makes more cracks form so that eventually the whole thing bursts and we have a major mess on our hands.
Now if we were to walk in on a scene like this without having seen the whole process leading up to it we would see a broken pipe, tape clogging up the inside, and a bunch of little Larrys all over the place. We'd probably be tempted to blame the whole mess on Larry and his tape. Just like heart disease and clogged arteries are blamed on LDL and cholesterol.
So now let's pretend that instead of sending out little Larry and his tape we manage and support that pipe making sure we have good material for the long-term health of the whole system. We make sure there are no chemicals being sent down the pipe that might damage the metal or weaken it. Instead we send minerals and other substances that actually strengthen the pipe over the years. Without the chemicals, the pipe stays solid and the tape is not needed so Larry's co-worker, Harry takes the tape back to the plant to be used for something else. And we all know that the more guys named Harry (HDL) you have working for you, the less likely you are to have a pipe break.
In heart disease, what is the real issue? What causes the damage to the artery walls to begin with? Well, we already know of a lot of substances that cause damage to the arteries such as trans fatty acid found in partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. Chlorinated water and bromine found in many foods can also scar the arteries. Some people think it might be a lack of vitamin D (hey, didn't I say that was made out of cholesterol?) Or many believe excess consumption of sugar and refined carbohydrates (like bread and pasta) does it. We certainly know that high triglyceride levels are associated with heart disease and triglycerides rise with consumption of refined carbohydrates. Or it could be homogenized milk or exposure to pesticides or chronic inflammation or stress. The list goes on and on.
While there are plenty of ways to lower cholesterol including natural ways (polyphenols, red yeast rice, etc.) maybe we should be looking at the real issue. Let's repair the damage to the blood vessels using herbs like Gingko and Hawthorn Berries. Let's stop eating heavily processed foods that might be contributing to weakened blood vessels. Let's lower our stress and drink pure water and bask in the sunlight and yes... eat bacon and eggs fried in butter too. I do.
To Your Health,