What's cholesterol & why are we afraid of it?

Cholesterol has been a hot topic and has caused people much stress and confusion. First, eat eggs, then don’t eat eggs! Eat margarine, not butter – be very afraid of saturated fats. This is just the start of the confusion. The one thing that remains to be true is that you don’t have to look too far to find someone who has been prescribed a statin drug to lower that cholesterol. The remainder of this article answers some of the mystery behind this biochemical substance we all seem fear so much. This article answers the question, Cholesterol, What is it and why are we afraid of it?


First of all, what is cholesterol and what is its function in the body? Cholesterol is our body’s main repair mechanism. Cholesterol is produced by the liver in response to inflammation. It is sent to the site of inflammation in order to repair it. To put it another way, if fire is like inflammation, cholesterol is the firefighter. When our lipid panels come back with elevated cholesterol numbers, that’s telling us (and our doctors) something. Instead of dealing with the problem, we just cover it up and take a statin medication like Lipitor to make that cholesterol come down without dealing with the cause of inflammation! This inflammation is what puts us at risk of chronic disease. The cholesterol levels are trying to show us that. We are shooting the messenger when we take these medications.


By the way, Pfizer is expected to have $3 Billion in sales in 2015 of Lipitor. You can read about it here. And also, if you’ve ever felt pressure to go on a medication and haven’t felt comfortable with the decision, read this.


What do the different cholesterol numbers mean? There are 2 main cholesterol numbers that doctors look at besides the total cholesterol number as well as the triglyceride number. These are Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL) and High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL). In something called the Lipid Hypothesis, HDL is generally considered the “good” cholesterol and LDL is the “bad.” The thought is its best if your total cholesterol number is less than 200. It is said that if it is higher than that, you are in danger of heart disease and you will need to be on a statin to lower those numbers. One could conclude that too much HDL (the good kind) leads to a bad thing – total cholesterol over 200. (Total cholesterol is the sum of HDL and LDL). This doesn’t make sense to me. But we need to look further into recent studies that show LDL and HDL can be broken down even further. To make it simpler (not!), there is something called small, dense LDL (bad, bad cholesterol), large, fluffy and buoyant cholesterol (good, bad LDL) and intermediate LDL (which can be both good and bad). On top of it, there is good, good cholesterol (HDL 1 & 2) and bad, good cholesterol (HDL 3). So, now what does that total cholesterol number mean? Most conventional MDs only look at total, HDL, LDL, and trigylcerides which is missing some telling information. I can help you find out how you can test for all these numbers and help you eat your way to better cholesterol health.


Where do we find cholesterol in the body? Cholesterol is made by the liver and found everywhere in the body. It has many functions listed below:

  1. Without cholesterol and saturated fats our cells would not communicate throughout the body and proteins would not be able to do their jobs. Cholesterol (and saturated fats) help give cells their shape and structure. Without them, the cell membranes would not be able to perform their many functions. Cholesterol (and saturated fats) allow the cells throughout our body to communicate and provide a place for proteins in the cell membranes to do what their jobs as well.
  2. The brain! About one quarter of the cholesterol in our body can be found in the brain. When we take statin medications and our cholesterol levels get really low (under 160 or so) we may start to feel our cognitive skills decline. Cholesterol is important for the function of our nervous system and the transmission of messages in our brains. Myelin is a substance on our neurons (nerve cells) that helps with this transmission. Think of it as the coating (myelin) on electrical wires (nerve cells). Myelin is partly composed of cholesterol. Certain people due to genetics or autoimmune disease lose this protective coating and develop conditions such as MS (multiple sclerosis) or ALD (adrenaleukodystrphy). The production of myelin is closely connected with the synthesis of cholesterol. You can read more about it here.
  3. Hormones are made from cholesterol. Testosterone, Estrogens, Progesterone, Pregnenolone, and Androsterone are made from cholesterol. Without proper levels of these hormones, many conditions can result including infertility, premenstrual conditions, PCOS, adrenal stress and thyroid conditions. Without cholesterol, we can’t make these hormones.
  4. Digestion. How does cholesterol improve digestion? In order to digest the nutrients in our foods, the liver produces bile and it is stored in the gall bladder. Bile is made from cholesterol. So, without cholesterol, we would have difficulty in absorbing fats and the nutrients that are soluble in fats like Vitamins A, D, E, K.

So, the process of cholesterol production looks something like this...Come back next week to learn more about cholesterol and how it affects your health. 

Step 1: We eat horrible, processed foods. Over time, those foods damage the lining of our blood vessels.

Step 2: The body recognizes this damage and messages the liver to produce cholesterol to go and repair the damage (put the fire out).

Step 3: We keep doing this over and over. The liver sends out LDL to go to the site of injury or inflammation that results from injury, surgery, illness, poor food choices, etc. You fill in the blanks.

Step 4: We go have a lipid panel done at the doctor’s office and surprise! We have high cholesterol and everyone is scared of these numbers.

Step 5: We are prescribed statin medications to reduce this cholesterol number without paying attention to what’s causing that increase in cholesterol.

Next week, more cholesterol info...



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