As with many health topics today, there is so much misinformation about cholesterol that it really is confusing for the average person. First of all, let’s clear up the purpose of cholesterol in our bodies. Despite information readily available from official sources, cholesterol is not the evil substance it is made out to be, but actually has many benefits to the body.
Chemically speaking, cholesterol is actually an alcohol, but it is carried through the blood by fat-protein molecules known as lipoproteins. Cholesterol is found in the outer cell wall of every cell and gives necessary structure and rigidity to cell walls. It is found most abundantly in the brain and nerve tissue. Cholesterol is also a precursor for the steroid hormones that help us deal with stress, protect the body against heart disease and cancer, and form the sex hormones.
Additionally, cholesterol is used to repair damaged tissue, such as blood vessels, and is found in all scar tissue. Some scientists believe this is why cholesterol is found plastered on the artery walls of people with heart disease. Perhaps blood vessels are being damaged by poor dietary habits or weakened from lack of exercise and cholesterol is just preventing blood vessel rupture.
It is also important for you to know that cholesterol content in the body is not regulated by diet. The liver produces three to four times the amount of cholesterol found in the average diet. In fact, when you eat less cholesterol, your liver will make more to make up for the deficit. This is why doctors have now resorted to prescription drugs to lower cholesterol. I find it very disturbing that these statin medications are damaging to the liver – an amazing and essential organ that is responsible for dozens of functions in the body besides making cholesterol.
If I haven’t convinced you of the importance of cholesterol yet, consider that it is also an antioxidant (protects us against the ravages of free radicals which damage cells and can lead to cancer), it is a precursor to Vitamin D and bile salts (for fat digestion), is needed for proper function of serotonin, is important for the health of the intestinal wall and is found abundantly in mother’s milk.
Population studies show such things as low cholesterol in women associated with higher mortality and high cholesterol associated with reduced risk of cancer. These studies have been reported in such journals as Geriatrics, and The Lancet among many others. We can make sense of this apparent contradiction when we understand the benefits of cholesterol discussed above. If data is read correctly and we understand the way the body uses cholesterol, I believe we will soon be able to conclude that there is no causative relationship between cholesterol and heart disease any more than there is a causative relationship between ambulances and auto accidents.
Perhaps instead of monitoring cholesterol, we should monitor our sense of well-being. Sometimes we get lost in a myriad of test results and forget our objective, which I presume to be: feel better, be healthier and enjoy life more. I believe if we focus on achieving wellness through healthy lifestyle habits, we will have better results than if we focus on the level of a particular chemical in our blood at a particular time.
If you would like more information about the benefits of cholesterol and its functions in the body, I suggest reading The Cholesterol Myths by Uffe Ravnskov, MD, PhD. (www.ravnskov.nu) or looking up information from The Weston A. Price Foundation (www.westonaprice.org).