It appears that cholesterol has received much negative attention through the media, conveying a harmful implication regarding heart and health. Does it really deserve this bad rap?
So what is cholesterol and what role does it have on our health? Cholesterol is actually a steroid. It is a structural component of cell membranes and is the ancestor to many of our hormones which activate physiologic activities. Without it, our cells and the production of many vital hormones would cease to exist.
Why does cholesterol have such a bad reputation? One reason is that public misinformation seems to be abundant in the world of pharmaceuticals, and by displaying the bad face of cholesterol; this will generally construct a more favorable response at the cash register for drugs designed to lower cholesterol. The plain fact is, that these drugs, known as the H.M.G CoA inhibitors , do not directly influence cholesterol at all, they merely decrease the production of the spherical structures, known as lipoproteins, which carry cholesterol. These drugs shunt the activity of the enzyme H.M.G CoA, which sends a signal to the liver to produce the lipoprotein groups. Think of these lipoproteins as vehicles and cholesterol as the passengers. The more vehicles you have on the road, the probability that more people will be occupying these roads as well. However, how do we really know how many people occupy each vehicle? We cannot say for sure that each vehicle carries four, six or eight passengers. Obviously, the fewer vehicles you have, the fewer passengers in total there will be. But remember, these passengers have an important role in health.
The analogy used when we have our cholesterol checked is based on an assumption that all of the vehicles (lipoproteins) are occupied to their maximum potential. Some vehicles are able to carry more passengers (low density lipoproteins) to specific sites, including the arterial surface, and some are able to carry the “bad” passengers (high density lipoproteins) off to correction facilities where they are eliminated. But this doesn’t mean that the vehicles are always occupied to their maximum capacity. As a matter of fact, sometimes they have almost no passengers at all. The reason being is that a lipoprotein, being a sphere which has the capacity of attaching cholesterol to its receptor sites, performs this role with inconsistency. It seems to self determine needs through varying metabolic conditions and therefore never shows a consistent rate of cholesterol containment.
When we receive our blood tests which may read “high cholesterol” it is important to keep in mind that what is actually being read is “high vehicle production” not “high passenger load”.
Athletes will commonly show an increased lipoprotein count because there is actually not enough cholesterol in their system. Cholesterol has an important role in metabolism and in this case, being a monohydric alcohol, may, in certain circumstances, be used as a metabolic fuel source. The athletes’ bodies, in turn, are interpreting that more cholesterol is needed and therefore produce more vehicles in order to deliver passengers to specific destinations, which happen to be in short supply. Hence, the lipoprotein levels increase and the cholesterol levels remain sparse. This occurs not only in athletes but in other individuals as well. Generally, as these elevated lipoprotein levels are reported to the patient on a platter of fear, it imparts a sense of alarm in the patient’s mind. Many times, these medical assumptions are outright unwarranted, as this fear may actually have no validity at all. There are specific cases where elevated lipoprotein counts do implicate higher cholesterol values, but it is important to keep in mind what cholesterol’s true function is. It is when elevated triglyceride levels (hyperlipemia) are present in conjunction with increased lipoproteins, that attention is warranted.
The most common testament regarding cholesterol is its implication on cardiovascular health. Taking supplemental calcium or, in certain circumstances, unnecessary hormone replacement therapy, is actually more harmful for arterial health than cholesterol. The travesty here is that it is generally considered safe to take these types of protocols.
When our arteries are damaged by either elevated homocysteine or transfat levels, it is cholesterol which actually repairs the damage, creating a slight bump, or patch on the arterial wall. If this continues, then an eventual narrowing (arteriosclerosis) will occur. With a poor diet, consumption of high triglycerides, fried or barbequed foods, mismanagement of supplemental protocols and the frequent listening to political debates, the risk for coronary disaster is greater.
The premise of this article is to give a basic understanding of the role of cholesterol as well as the true definition of lipoproteins, understanding that it is very difficult to read actual cholesterol counts on a blood test and to realize that there are other factors such as high triglycerides, serum calcium and homocysteine levels which implicate a burden on arterial health.
If one is concerned about the lipoprotein count registered on a blood test, then self research will reveal that there are alternatives to the H.M.G CoA inhibitor drugs which demonstrate equal if not superior results at lowering lipoprotein counts without the unwanted side effects often experienced with prescription drugs.
- By Kevin Meehan