Cardiovascular disease, In particular, coronary artery disease, (CAD – which is the blockage of the blood vessels of the heart) can be touted as one of the biggest public health epidemic of the 20th Century. From the 1940’s, major studies were conducted, and high cholesterol was identified as one of the biggest risk factors of CAD. By the 1980’s, cholesterol became the so-called smoking gun of this epidemic.
Back then, the prevailing wisdom (if you can call it that) was that because cholesterol is one of the main components of the substance (plaque) that clogs our arteries (arteriosclerosis), a huge campaign against dietary cholesterol and fat was launched in order to deal with this problem. A few decades later we are now sicker and fatter. Cardiovascular disease is still a huge problem, and cholesterol-lowering drugs are one of the biggest cash cows for the pharmaceutical industry.
What happened? Where did we go wrong?
In the end it turns out that we were focusing on the symptom and not actually the problem. The idea that cholesterol is evil is very much ingrained in most people’s minds.
This however is merely a myth.
We need cholesterol. It is a normal and important part of a healthy body because of the essential role it plays in cell membrane, and vitamin D production. Cholesterol is also a precursor to all of the steroid hormones, which means that we cannot make estrogen, testosterone, cortisol and a range of others without it. It is vital to the digestive process by helping to form bile acids that aid in the digestion of fat. Cholesterol also helps in the formation of your memories and is vital for neurological function. In fact every single one of your cells needs cholesterol to thrive.
Most or our cholesterol (about 75%) is produced in our liver, the rest is derived from our diet. Cholesterol is found in foods like meats, shellfish and eggs. In particular the dietary fat from these foods after it is injected is absorbed by the intestine and transported to the liver. The liver then converts fat into cholesterol and releases it into the bloodstream. Because cholesterol isn’t water-soluble, cholesterol and triglycerides (a blood lipid) combine with proteins to form lipoproteins, which then transport cholesterol through the blood system. The ratio of protein to cholesterol determines what type of lipoprotein it is. The two main types are known as Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL). These are also known as ‘bad’ and ‘good’ cholesterol respectively.
LDL is know as the ‘bad’ cholesterol because is has be shown to be the one involved in plaque formation in the arteries. HDL is ‘good’ because it recycles cholesterol back to the liver.
Clogging of the arteries is obviously a big problem but the cause is not simply too much LDL cholesterol. As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, the solution again comes down to lifestyle choices. Pro-inflammatory diets like fast-food, sugary and processed foods, lack of exercise, stress etc. are really the main contributing factors.
The solution is not to simply lower cholesterol by using synthetic chemicals that block its formation by the liver. The last several decades have proven that this does not work. It is true that these drugs can lower you cholesterol blood values but they have never been proven to actually make you healthier.
Consider your lifestyle choices, are you making the best decisions for your health? If you have any questions, please drop me an email – firstname.lastname@example.org