Cholesterol-The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Cholesterol lowering drugs are a 100 billion dollar industry but is cholesterol really of foe? Or perhaps it could be a friend?

Does high cholesterol directly contribute to Cardiovascular Disease? Does lowering cholesterol prevent all heart attacks?

I have many patients with cholesterol problems and find that almost no one really understands cholesterol when they first come in. Let’s explore this so we can learn what cholesterol is and how it works in the body.

Many people refer to cholesterol as good and bad, and while its easy to see it that way, I find it is very confusing and way too oversimplified. Cholesterol is a very important molecule so assigning it a “bad” or “good” name is not really correct.

Most of us know cholesterol consists of HDL and LDL, but what are they?

HDL and LDL are lipoproteins that attach and transport cholesterol and other lipids such as triglycerides through the blood. Without them, it would not be able to move around and this is important because cholesterol is used for many processes including tissue repair.

LDL’s job is to mobilize cholesterol from the liver out where cholesterol is needed. For example, if there is tissue damage in a particular part of the body, LDL binds to cholesterol and brings it to that area of damage so that cholesterol can aid in the repair process. HDL helps mobilize cholesterol from the site of damage after repair is done back to the liver so cholesterol can be recycled of used for all its many needed functions.

We often hear that people with cholesterol and especially elevated LDL have a higher chance of cardiovascular disease and cardio vascular events. This is a very tricky statement however, because it all depends on what is the event. If you have a process going on in your cardiovascular system that is causing a lot of damage such as free radicals for example, your body is going to try and naturally respond to the damage and repair it with LDL. This damaging process (which is due to the free radicals in this example) is going to put you at a higher rate for heart disease, but its not the LDL’s fault, it is just responding to the damaging process. It happens to be around when tissues are being destroyed thus its easy to make the correlation that LDL affects it, but it may not be necessarily causing the heart disease.

If damage and inflammation if the problem, you may be wondering then, why does eating well and exercising often lower cholesterol?

When someone is eating poorly and especially over consuming sugars and processed carbohydrates, blood sugar levels spike and insulin is released, both very inflammatory processes. This inflammation causes an increase in cholesterol to “put out the fire” Therefore, when these foods are minimized and a person eats lean proteins, vegetables, fruits and whole grains, inflammation dramatically reduces and there is no need for cholesterol to be sent to the area for repair. Exercise works in a similar fashion by reducing inflammation and moving toxins out of the body. Contrary to popular belief, eating less foods that naturally contain cholesterol such as eggs doesn’t usually work to lower total cholesterol because when you eat less cholesterol your body produces more to get what it needs and when you eat more your body produces less.

Cholesterol medications are a 100 billion dollar industry, but as you can see, that may not be the right answer because if cholesterol is increased, there is almost always an underlying reason. Synthetically lowering the cholesterol with a drug often does not protect against heart disease because the underlying inflammation will not be touched by the drug.  Finding the source of inflammation and correcting it is the key to naturally reducing cholesterol and also preventing heart disease.

When a patient comes in with high cholesterol, I put them on an anti-inflammatory diet as discussed above but also hunt for underlying problems such as free radicals, anti oxidant deficiencies and mineral imbalances which can all be the underlying source.

Elevated mercury is often a culprit as it creates a huge amount of inflammation and cholesterol production increases so it can be used as an antioxidant in those cases to protect the body.  Various detoxification techniques to remove the mercury and other heavy metals are essential to success.

Once these issues are fixed, I always see a drop in cholesterol and many patients can even get off their medications with their doctor’s consent.

Another problem that often happens with cholesterol medications is that they not only shut down the production of cholesterol, but also the production of CoQ10, an extremely important antioxidant that is essential to the proper function of all muscles (remember the heart is a muscle) and energy production. I have written about this in previous newsletters, but wanted to reiterate because this is so important.  Lowering cholesterol this way may seem to protect again some heart disease but promotes a different type of heart disease at an even higher rate due to the depression of CoQ10.  If you are on cholesterol medications and not taking a CoQ10 supplement, it is imperative that you start right away, especially if you experience any kind of muscle pain or weakness which is a sign of CoQ10 depletion. There are various CoQ10 supplements on the market and as you can probably guess, not all are created equal due to quality and absorption rates. Ubiquinol is the most potent and highly absorbable form of CoQ10 and while a bit more expensive than its counterparts, you will require a lower dosage and it will equal out in price in the long term.

If you have high cholesterol and want to get off your medication you need to:

Reduce stress. Cholesterol is building block of cortisol (the stress hormone) and people that have lots of stress and anxiety produce more cortisol thus their bodies will make more cholesterol to protect the body.

Reduce overall inflammation

Reduce free radical damage with broad spectrum antioxidants and bioflavonoids and avoid environmental and outside free radicals

The following tests can be helpful to better assess your true heart disease rate

fibrinogen – thickness of blood

cardio CRP – inflammation of cardio vascular system

Ferratin – iron storage which shows up quicker than regular iron in the blood and a big proponent of free radicals

Homocysteine  –  sign of methylation problems that can often be fixed with proper B vitamins

Triglycerides – fats in the blood. If elevated you need to reduce sugar, increase exercise and supplement with 2-3 grams of L-Carnitine daily

Insulin, Glucose and HbA1c – blood sugar markers which can greatly contribute to inflammation

We are happy to help guide you in the process so please do not hesitate to call the office if you have any questions or would like to set up a consultation.

What about low cholesterol?

This is an increasing phenomenon and there are many people (even some doctors) that believe cholesterol needs to be as low as possible. I think this came out due to the countless cholesterol medications on the market urging everyone to get their cholesterol down, but it is not correct. Cholesterol is used for hundreds of extremely necessary functions through out the body and we would not exist without it. Here are some of the most important ones:

Cholesterol is the building block for:

Steroid hormones such as cortisol estrogen, progesterone and testosterone which are essential to life

All of our cell membranes – these keep everything in the cell intact and without membranes, we would not keep our shape and look like big blobs.

Cholesterol is also needed for:

Bile – this is what our liver produces to emulsify fats so that we can digest the fats we eat and absorb all of our fat soluble vitamins and also help excrete toxins from the body

Absorption of serotonin in the brain – when low, it results in depression, pain and sugar cravings

Manufacturing of myelin – the tissue that surrounds the nerves and when its depleted, it can leads to MS

Vitamin D absorption – this vitamin is crucial for immunity, bone health, cancer prevention and helps reduce the risk of autoimmune diseases

Generation of dopamine in brain – this initiates cognition and movement and prevents again Parkinson’s disease

If your total cholesterol is under 145, you may be at risk!

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