The Truth About Cholesterol

Cholesterol is one of those things that has become a health bogey man. It is bad for you isn’t it? You must take drugs to get rid of it? Actually, No.

Cholesterol is essential for all animal life; it is a waxy steroid metabolite that is used by the body to manufacture the membranes surrounding all of our cells. It is moved round in our blood plasma to make sure that it is available wherever it is needed. Cells constantly shed and rebuild their skins – these are the membranes – and cholesterol is the material that they use to do this. It also has roles in the creation of bile acids that help us to process fats, the creation of steroid hormones that help to build cells and in the absorption of fat soluble vitamins including A, D, E and K.

A metabolite means something that we create through metamorphosis or synthesis of simpler components found in our diets. In other words, we manufacture most of the cholesterol we need within our bodies. As well as manufacturing cholesterol, we also obtain it directly from our diets, particularly from all animal fats, cheese, egg yolks, shellfish like prawns, etc. Human breast milk contains very significant quantities of cholesterol to help babies build and grow. Recently, cholesterol has also been implicated in cell signalling processes, assisting in the formation of the signalling networks (or lipid rafts) within the blood supply that allows cells to communicate with each other.

With modern diets, everyone has too much cholesterol in their bodies compared with what is needed. This is not a problem because the body has very well ordered systems for balancing the cholesterol load and getting rid of any surpluses. This is called homeostasis; the process that the body uses to keep its internal processes in balance. It will turn the cholesterol synthesising process on and off as needed and take dietary cholesterol from the digestion when more is needed than can be manufactured by the body itself. To put this very simply, the body will work out how much cholesterol it needs, manufacture as much as it can and if it needs more, then get it from the digestion. All of the rest of the cholesterol in the digestive system it will process, mainly through the liver, and get rid of. It goes through the liver into the bile and then to the intestines where it is excreted.

So far, cholesterol is essential to life and can be adequately managed by the body. So what goes wrong when our cholesterol levels are said to be too high? Cholesterol is only slightly soluble in water; it can dissolve and travel in the water-based bloodstream at exceedingly small concentrations. Since cholesterol is insoluble in blood, it is transported in the circulatory system within lipoproteins. These can be of very low density (VLDL), low density (LDL) or high density (HDL); these will be one of the things measured if you have a blood test. It refers to the density of cholesterol present in the lipoprotein compared with actual protein. VLDLs take away excess cholesterol that is not required by the liver for the production of bile acids, LDLs deliver cholesterol to the cells and HDLs take all of the excess cholesterol in the blood stream away for disposal.

HDLs have been described as ‘good cholesterol’ and LDLs as ‘bad cholesterol’ although these descriptions have been increasingly challenged by scientists.

The medical profession widely believes that too high a level of LDLs in the blood stream is dangerous and can cause heart attacks, strokes, etc. and that there should be medical intervention to get rid of them using drugs called statins. It is important to recognise that not everyone agrees with that conclusion.

The first thing to understand is that there is absolutely no scientific evidence that the body takes more cholesterol from the digestion than it needs to maintain homeostasis. So the amount of cholesterol we actually eat may be irrelevant in this problem.

It has been proven scientifically that too low a level of cholesterol is positively dangerous and is an indicator of possible disease including cancer. Cholesterol levels tend to get lower as we get older. This would appear to have a correlation with the degree of rarefaction of capillaries.

Statins are an interfering drug. They inhibit the action of the enzyme in the liver that creates LDLs. Liver cells sense the reduced levels of liver cholesterol and seek to compensate by synthesizing LDL receptors to draw cholesterol out of the circulation. This is accomplished via enzymes that bind with a protein which migrates to the liver nucleus and causes increased production of various other proteins and enzymes, including the LDL receptor. The LDL receptor then relocates to the liver cell membrane and binds to passing LDL and VLDL particles. LDL and VLDL are drawn out of circulation into the liver where the cholesterol is reprocessed into bile salts. These are excreted, and subsequently recycled mostly by internal bile salt circulation. What they are doing is stopping the natural homeostatic process that the body uses to create the cholesterol it needs. It is questionable whether anything that interferes with the body’s natural balance can be beneficial. Certainly one of the consequences of this is a range of possible unpleasant side effects. Because statins are interfering with liver enzymes, this can lead to serious headaches, muscle cramps, nerve damage and other problems. Also, if continued use leads to LDL levels being too low, this can be indicative of cancer and other serious health problems. Personally, I would never, ever, take statins but this is a decision you should think about in consultation with your personal physician. Health professionals may fight to maintain the use of statins as the market is now worth about £25 billion a year to the pharmaceutical industry.

A tiny proportion of high cholesterol cases have genetic causes but you will know if you fall into this group and you will need to take corrective medications.

At ActiveSignal, our scientists took a fresh look at the question of cholesterol levels. The hypothesis was that high levels of cholesterol cause atherosclerosis, the blocking of arteries that can lead to heart attacks, strokes and other problems. That is to say, the adverse consequences of high blood pressure; cholesterol blocking the arteries being the cause of the raised blood pressure levels.

We believe that it is exactly the other way round; raised blood pressure levels cause cholesterol to accumulate in the arteries. In a normal healthy circulation, the volume of lipoprotein-borne cholesterol in the blood plasma does not matter. It is surplus to the body’s requirements and it is on its way for disposal. The walls of the arteries are very flexible and very smooth and nothing can stick to them; no problem. If an individual has raised blood pressure then artery walls will be pushed open to their maximum diameter by the pressure. Holding artery musculature in this fixed position will have two consequences. Firstly, the artery walls will become inflamed and will develop damaging fissures. Secondly, the artery walls will no longer be flexible and smooth and the fatty LDL’s will start to stick to the fissures that have been created. Thus, raised blood pressure leads to the accumulation of cholesterol rather than the reverse.

It follows from this that the priority must be the reduction of raised blood pressure which is caused, in 95% of all cases, by the rarefaction of capillaries. The only available health intervention for this is ion eXtra™ which uses smart cell signalling to restore capillary health and returns blood pressure to optimum. Depending upon how long the arteries have been subjected to elevated pressure, they should gradually return to normal elasticity and the LDLs will no longer accumulate.

In the meantime, as this is a problem of balance, it is a good idea to do all of the things that we always recommend to improve life styles; plenty of exercise, improved diets, less stress, a bit of fresh air and sunshine and the right levels of sleep.

© Graeme Ward August 2010