Cholesterol has certainly gotten a bad rap; but is cholesterol bad? Let’s start with considering that everything you’ve learned about this marker is wrong.
“My cholesterol is high. I can’t seem to be able to lower it. Maybe I should take medicine but I’m afraid of meds. What should I do?”
Thoughts such as these preoccupy a good many people as cholesterol has become a subject of concern for a large part of the population. Is cholesterol bad? The mainstream seems to want us to believe it is.
How did this state of affairs come about and what is its scientific basis? Which fears are justified and which are not?
All too often, information is altered as it is passed on; greater emphasis is placed on one piece of information than on another, leading to wrong conclusions. It is therefore always preferable to go back to original sources rather than subsequent interpretations. So let’s take it from the beginning.
Framingham Heart Study
In 1948 a health study was undertaken on the population (6,000) of Framingham, a small town in Massachusetts, USA. Its results have had a lasting influence on contemporary cardiology.
In 1979 researchers of the Framingham study announced that persons with total cholesterol values above 270 mg presented an increased risk, albeit small, of heart disease.
Cholesterol and serious health risk became associated in the minds of both the public and physicians.
What ensued has been constant barrage about the dangers of cholesterol, with people believing that the higher the cholesterol levels, the greater the likelihood that blood vessels will clog.” Hence they go through major efforts to lower cholesterol “at any cost.”
But is this really all true? According to the specialists, some of it is and some of it is not. While some medical doctors are adamant that cholesterol must be lowered or else, others try to avoid the administration of drugs because of their potential health hazard.
What Exactly Is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a fat molecule produced by the liver, vital to a great number of functions of the organism.
It is a building block of many of the components of the human body, such as the cellular membrane, and is essential to the function of the nervous system and that of a great number of hormones, including the male and female hormones. It is also used as fuel by the cardiac muscle.
It is one of the most important elements of the human organism, which is why two thirds of the total amount of cholesterol in circulation are produced by the organism itself. Only one third comes from food.
What then is the relation between cholesterol and the risk of cardiovascular disease?
Is Cholesterol Bad?: Cholesterol And Inflammation
The Harvard Medical School stated in a recent publication that it’s not the health villain that it’s made out to be, and the view of cholesterol as a problem in hydraulics, resulting in artery blockage, is no longer valid. An avalanche of data suggests that increased levels of cholesterol are linked mainly to the existence of inflammation.
Although we hear the term “inflammation” frequently, most people do not have a clear idea as to its exact meaning. Inflammation is linked to many health problems and cardiac disease in particular.
In fact inflammation is not a bad thing; rather it is a normal function of the body. All it is is the body’s reaction to a threat; internal or external.
During inflammation the following takes place:
- Blood vessels contract to reduce blood loss in case of hemorrhage.
- Blood coagulation increases for the same reason.
- White blood cells multiply to prevent the development of germs.
- Cells multiply to repair damage,
- Cholesterol levels in the blood increase to make it possible for the above mechanisms to take place.
The increased presence of cholesterol means that something is wrong with the blood vessels, that much is true. But it is not the culprit. Very low levels of cholesterol have actually been linked to an increased risk of hemorrhage caused by ruptured arteries!
Cholesterol is actually an index of cardiovascular risk, not its cause.
CRP (C-reactive protein) is a reliable chronic inflammation index. It is used to detect vessel inflammation and predict the risk of developing heart disease.
- CRP levels below 1 mg/l indicate a small cardiovascular risk
- CRP levels between 1 and 3 mg/l correspond to medium risk
- Over 3 mg/l the risk is serious
All this leads to the conclusion that there isn’t such a thing as “good” and “bad” cholesterol. This also explains why some people with high cholesterol levels live to an old age while others with low cholesterol levels are at severe cardiovascular risk and in much poorer health.
The problem is really whether there is inflammation and will the body able to handle it rapidly and without consequence?
Furthermore, if the body needs more cholesterol to deal with a problem, it wouldn’t be wise to try and prevent it from producing more.
How Did The Current Limits Come About?
In 2004, a division of the National Institutes of Health formed the US National Cholesterol Education Program and advised people with a high risk of cardiovascular disease to drastically lower their cholesterol levels.
However, in 2006 a review published in the Annals of Internal Medicine stated there is no evidence that could serve as a basis to formulate values for acceptable cholesterol levels.
What If I Drastically Lower My Cholesterol Levels?
Many unpleasant things are likely to occur as a result. As already mentioned, the cholesterol molecule is extremely important for the proper functioning of the body.
Unfortunately we have become used to hearing only bad things about cholesterol. The truth, however, is that the organism is completely dependent on it. So much that its presence is actually a requisite for life.
It is an essential structural component of the cellular membrane in all living beings on the planet. There could be no life without cholesterol!
Low cholesterol levels have been linked with:
- Depression. Cholesterol is vital to the production of serotonin.
- Sexual dysfunction. Cholesterol is necessary to the production of testosterone and estrogen.
- Neurological diseases. The brain contains a quarter of the body’s total cholesterol content.
- Low vitamin D levels. The organism uses cholesterol to synthesize vitamin D.
What Can Be Done
Cholesterol is but a part of the much broader subject of overall health. Instead of looking at one part and treating it with medication we must look at the body in a holistic way and understand that each part functions inter-connectedly.
First, reduce inflammation by:
- Weight control. Obesity is a signal that something isn’t right. If you aren’t able to maintain a healthy weight fairly easily you may want to talk with your naturopath or integrative medicine practitioner.
- Diet. White foods such as refined sugar, wheat, processed food and dairy cause inflammation. Eliminate these foods and stick with vegetables and healthy fats as your main staples. Add in a moderate amount of animal protein from healthy sources (many of us eat too much protein). Don’t like veggies? Eat ’em anyway!
- Adequate exercise. Twenty to 30 minutes a day is a good starting point.
- Rest and relaxation. Yoga and meditation can help reduce your stress and allow your body to heal.
- Lowering toxic load. Environmental toxins play a part in causing chronic inflammation. Get rid of chemical cleaners and beauty products.
- Adding molecular hydrogen to your daily supplements. Some research has shown it to improve HDL function and reduce oxidative stress.
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Is Cholesterol Bad? Not Necessarily!
Good health is not achieved by panicking and further upsetting the body’s biochemical balance. We become healthy by doing the things that create and reinforce good health.
The real criterion is: does this make me feel better and help me be healthier, or not?