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The Brighter Side of Cholesterol

Article by: Marisa Comito 2007


The body needs cholesterol to ensure proper cell membrane function. From cholesterol the liver makes up bile acids, vital in digestion and absorption of fats, oils and fat soluble vitamins. Cholesterol makes up very important hormones such as; sex hormones, adrenal corticosteroids (aldosterone and cortisol) and vitamin D are made from cholesterol. The skin uses cholesterol to protect us against the wear and tear of sun, wind and water. (1)

Cholesterol helps damaged skin to heal and prevent infections from foreign agents. It also acts as an antioxidant when needed and protects us from certain cancers. Without cholesterol, we would die. Too little cholesterol is implicated in many disease states.


The body's cells make the cholesterol it needs in response to daily needs. For instance, when we drink alcohol, it dissolves in and causes the cellular membranes to become more fluid like. In response cells build more cholesterol into the membrane bringing it back to a normal (less fluid) state. As the alcohol wears off the membrane hardens, so some membrane cholesterol is removed to re-establish normal membrane fluidity, the excess cholesterol is then attached to to an essential fatty acid (EFA), for example omega-3, shipped via blood to the liver to be changed into bile salts for excretion. (1)



The most commonly accepted theory of Cardiovascular Disease (CVD) states that when too much cholesterol builds up in the body it is deposited in the arterial walls causing atherosclerosis, a narrowing of the arteries and vessels. Excess cholesterol and saturated fatty acids can make blood platelets "sticky" increasing the risk of clot thus increasing the risk of heart disease, heart attack, stroke and kidney failure. (1)


This unproved theory that time has honoured has now become dogma. For all cholesterol lowering of the past 40 years, CVD is still on the increase. All the recent evidence suggest that we have been barking up the "Wrong Tree". In fact it is worse than this - "The cholesterol lowering enterprise threatens to turn a large percentage of the healthy population into patients." (2)


There is NO SUCH THING as "Good" cholesterol (HDL - High Density Lipoprotein) and "Bad" cholesterol (LDL - Low Density Lipoprotein).  LDL's (so called - bad cholesterol) is just as important as HDL's (so called - good cholesterol). LDL's carry cholesterol, triglycerides and fat soluble vitamins to cells where they are needed, HDL's take them back to the liver as required. The confusion exists because a high LDL reading simply means that your system is being overloaded by cholesterol either from food, from abnormally high synthesis and/or from too slow a removal. It does not mean we are at greater risk of heart disease or stroke. (1)


Consider the following: (1)(pg- 271)

1) Cholesterol consumption has remained constant over the past 100 years, while CVD has skyrocketed (in Western Societies).


2) The US Framington Heart Study found that - "there is no discernible association between cholesterol in diet and the level of cholesterol in the blood."


3) People in many other cultures consume far more cholesterol than western societies do, and have far less heart disease. For example, the Masai consume mostly meat, blood and milk, up to 2000mg of cholesterol daily, yet maintain a 3.5 mmol/L serum cholesterol and have an extremely low incidence of heart disease.


4) The Lancet said in June 1931 - "That heart attack was almost unknown before 1926, before margarine, when butter, lard, tallow and other saturated fats were eaten without fear".


5) The BMJ reported in 1989 the results of the Renfrew and Paisley survey which showed that serum cholesterol levels (high or low) made no difference when it came to fatal heart attacks.


6) The Roseta study showed that American Italians with high serum cholesterol actually had less than 50% of deaths from heart attack than the rest of te U.S.A. Several other more recent studies also show the benefits of the "Mediteranean Diet", which confirm less death from heart attack and cancer.


7) CVD risk factors which are important, (if not more so than serum cholesterol) include; the consumption of refined sugar, animal fats, food additives and especially trans-fatty acids - eg; margarine.


8) Drugs that lower cholesterol do not (statistically) reduce heart attacks or deaths from atherosclerosis.


9) Weakened areas of arteries cause the body to respond with a defense mechanism to cover and correct the weakness with cholesterol (the body's attempt to protect the artery), the artery section then hardens thus causing a problem for blood circulation. Lp(a) and its adhesive protein apo(a), which looks like LDL, is a strong risk factor. Dissociated from Lp(a), LDL appears to be only a weak risk factor. This means LDL has been wrongly blamed for damage done by Lp(a).


10) Increased intake of vitamin C (to several grams daily) and other antioxidants can keep Lp(a) levels down, build strong artery walls with strong connective tissue and reverse and repair cariovacular disease (remembering weak sections of arteries cause the lay down of cholesterol for protection in those areas).


Margarine may also be a factor. Originally many people converted from butter to margarine to reduce their total dietary cholesterol intake, thinking they were making a healthy choice. This seemed logical in light of the cholesterol-heart attack hypothesis, however, it turns out that the use of partly hydrogenated oils are high in trans forms of fatty acids. This form inhibits a liver enzyme responsible for converting cholesterol into bile acids. Bile acids transport cholesterol out of the body. If cholesterol is not converted to bile, it accumulates in the blood, the exact opposite of the desired result. (1)


The cholesterol scare is big business for doctors, laboratories and drug companies. The new generation cholesterol lowering drugs like Simvastatin and Pravastatin are very expensive, but offer a risk reduction of heart attack of only 2%. (1)


Recent research warns against low levels of serum cholesterol. Indiscriminate lowering of cholesterol actually increases the risk of cancer, as LDL's transport the fat soluble antioxidant vitamins E, A and carotene. Studies have shown that females with cholesterol over 7mmol/L survive longer than those with cholesterol of 4.5mmol/L or lower. Mortality was five times higher in the lower group than the the higher 7mmol/L group. Low cholesterol levels also reduce the numbers of serotonin brain receptors thus increasing anxiety, depression and psychoses, attempted suicides and possible predisposing to dementia. (3)


Low cholesterol levels also affect the capacity of the endocrine system to manufacture the hormones and will create imbalances there as well, which affect libido, menstrual cycle among other things.


There is no doubt whatsoever that low levels of serum cholesterol do not prevent heart attacks. But worse, low cholesterol levels may be associated with causes of cancer. Cancer patients seem almost invariably to have low serum cholesterol levels. Cholesterol may be, in fact, part of our defence system against cancer. Cholesterol for one thing acts as an antioxidant against lipid peroxydation. (1)


We know a lot more about cholesterol today than we did in 1956 when the cholesterol CVD theory was spawned. the majority of studies show that there is no truth in the theory, but for whtever reasons the dogma remains. Cigarette smoking is now a well documented risk factor in heart disease. Stress, coffee and smoking all cause vasoconstriction or narrowing of the arteries which is especially important in cases of angina where atherosclerosis is present.


While saturated fat consumption has increased only 10% in the past 100 years, the increase in refined carbohydrates and sugar has gone up an incredible 700%. This increase in consumption of refined carbohydrates, especially sugar, is the single most important factor effecting a rise in blood triglycerides. There is a definite link between societies with an extremely high sucrose consumption and coronary heart disease. (1)


A second major cause of heart disease is a lack of demanding exercise. Lifestyles have changed drastically over the past 100 years and general physical actvity levels have decreased and heart disease has increased. (1)


Stress causes an increase in cholesterol, glucose levels and triglycerides, it also causes an elevation of blood pressure. There are well known associations between stress and coronary heart disease.  Although all the answers to the heart disease question are not answered, the only true prevention and cure is to be found in a total lifestyle change.


Additional info:

Epidemiological studies reveal that the incidence of atherosclerosis is higher in countries where diets are high in saturated fats. However, vegetarians whose diet is low in saturated fats may develop atherosclerosis; but Eskimos, who eat large amounts of saturated fats, seldom develop the disease.


This indicates there are other factors besides saturated fat that affect the cholesterol level of the blood, including stress, anxiety, cigarette smoking, overeating, lack of exercise and high consumption of refined sugars. Some people may not efficiently metabolise saturated fats. Other factors may include high blood pressure, diabetes and gout. (4)


Choline, vitamin B12, biotin lecithin, pangamic acid, methionine and possible inositol are lipotropic substances (substances that must be present to prevent accumulation of fat in the liver). Since the liver regulates cholesterol, these vitamins may be essential.


Deficiencies of magnesium, potassium, manganese, zinc, vanadium, chromium or selenium. Other vitamin such as C, E, niacin (B3), folic acid or B6 may also be significant as many of these nutrients are necessary for fat utilisation. (4)




(1) Dr R Trattler. Dr A Jones. (2001). Better Health Through Natural Healing. Heart Disease. Dingley Victoria. Hinkler Books Pty Ltd

(2) British Medical Journeal, 304; 6824. Page 431

(3) J Bland. (1993) Medical Applications of Clinical Nutrition. keats Publishing Co., New Canaan, Conn.

(4) L. Dunne. (1990). Nutrition Almanac. Third Edition. Foods, Beverages, Supplementary Foods and Eating Right. New York - McGraw Hill Publishing Co. (pg 6 & 149)














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