As with saturated fat, cholesterol has been vilified for years by the medical establishment. They would have us believe it is one of the major causes of heart disease. This theory has been supported by the big drug companies who produce a range of cholesterol-lowering drugs. Call us cynical if you will but does this suggest anything to you?
What is Cholesterol
What is it though? Well, cholesterol is a waxy substance known as a lipid, and it is absolutely crucial for the normal functioning of the body. Most of it is made by the liver, but it is also present in some foods. The substance attaches itself to proteins in the blood which carries it around the body.
A current theory is that there are two types of cholesterol – low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and high-density lipoproteins (HDL). One is supposed to be ‘good’ while the other is ‘bad’. LDL is thought to be the latter as it creates a layer of plaque on the inside of the arteries. If this layer gets too thick, it can restrict the flow of blood and so eventually cause heart disease or stroke. HDL, on the other hand, is supposed to be good due to the fact it removes LDL cholesterol from the blood. That’s the theory, at any rate!
The reality, however, is that there is no good or bad cholesterol – it’s all one and the same. The lipoproteins are just tiny particles whose purpose is to carry essential fats in the blood around the body. In themselves, they are insignificant.
What is Cholesterol For?
To say that cholesterol is crucial to the functioning of the body is something of an understatement. It is actually essential at the cellular level – without it, there is no brain function, bone structure, muscles, reproductive system, memory or hormones – just nothing. Far from worrying about having too much of it, you should be concerned if you don’t have enough!
The real villain, the one cholesterol has been taking the rap for all these years, is actually inflammation. This is a protective process that swings into action whenever there is a perceived threat to the body. Cut your finger, for example, and several things happen immediately. Your blood will thicken, and maybe even clot, thus minimizing blood loss; your immune system is activated in order to fight any potential infection; and your body manufactures new cells and sends them to the damaged area to effect repairs. Now, in order to make these new cells, the body will need a dose of cholesterol, so it sends a signal to the liver telling it to produce some. Once produced, the cholesterol is duly released into the blood.
Any damage that occurs internally triggers the same responses. And this is where we begin to see how cholesterol has been made the fall guy. As with the cut finger scenario, the body’s response to internal damage is to thicken the blood, or even clot it. If this happens with a person who has restricted arteries, it will raise their blood pressure and, if one of these arteries is restricted enough to prevent the normal flow of blood, it will cause a heart attack or a stroke.
The cholesterol itself has nothing to do with it – all it does is to assist in the healing process. The heart attack/stroke is actually the result of inflammation somewhere in the body. As to what causes that inflammation, there are many things that could be responsible. It is, however, more than likely to be the result of a generally unhealthy lifestyle.
Now let’s look at someone who goes to see a doctor about something. If that condition, whatever it is, is causing inflammation, the level of cholesterol in their blood will be raised. The doctor does a blood test to find out the cause of the condition and, noting the raised level of cholesterol, concludes they could be at risk of cardiovascular disease. So the person is put on a course of drugs to lower their cholesterol level.
While this will have absolutely no effect on the non-existent cardiovascular disease, it may well have an effect on the person’s brain. It’s a fact that people with very low cholesterol levels are more likely to be depressives. Typical symptoms are difficulty making a decision, confusion and agitation. It can even adversely affect sleeping patterns.
Then we have the cholesterol drugs themselves. These are a class of drug called statins, and they reduce cholesterol by inhibiting an enzyme in the liver that produces it. However, they have effects other than the needless reduction of cholesterol. For one, they can cause type 2 diabetes by raising the level of sugar in the blood. Muscle pain, damage to the liver, loss of memory and depression can also be caused by statins. These are drugs that you do not want to be taking unless there is absolutely no alternative!
The message, therefore, is clear. Cardiovascular disease has nothing to do with cholesterol. The main cause is restricted arteries due to eating the wrong foods (carbohydrates, sugar and trans-fats). Overcooked food, lack of exercise, alcohol and smoking are other contributory factors. Cut this rubbish out of your diet and replace it with proper foods, such as red meat, fish, eggs, vegetables and dairy produce. You should also have a good intake of healthy plant fats, such as coconut oil, olive oil, nuts, seeds and avocados.
Augment this much healthier diet with exercise. This needn’t be too strenuous – a brisk twenty minute walk every day is all you need and will work wonders. Not only will it help you to lose weight, it will improve your circulation and boost the supply of oxygen to every cell in your body. Being fit will also help you to fight off diseases and illnesses as and when they manifest themselves.
The effects of exercise are not just physical either. A brisk walk is just as effective as anti-depressant pills in mild to moderate cases of depression. It makes the body release feel-good endorphins while, at the same time, reducing stress and anxiety. So put the pills back in the drawer and give it a try – it really does work.
As for cholesterol, this is something you simply don’t need to be concerned about – your body handles the issue itself.