The fat is in the fire

Cholesterol ended up with a bad name due to its role in heart disease. But it is an essential ingredient of the body. We simply cannot survive without cholesterol.

Due to our present way of living, many people suffer too high cholesterol levels and are put on statins, cholesterol-lowering drugs. They are promoted as a miracle cure, but numerous serious adverse side effects, which seem to outweigh the modest benefits by far, are neglected.

About a quarter of cholesterol is produced by the liver (in red). (© maya2008 – Fotolia.com)

About a quarter of cholesterol is produced by the liver (in red). (© maya2008 – Fotolia.com)

Cholesterol is a small organic compound soluble in fat, not in water. All cells manufacture cholesterol for their use. About a quarter of the total daily production occurs in the liver. Cholesterol is a component of cell membranes, necessary for membrane permeability and fluidity. The fatty sheath that covers axons, the long sprouts of neurones, and promotes rapid information transfer, is also rich in cholesterol.

In addition, from cholesterol at least five crucial hormones are made: progesterone, aldosterone, cortisol, and the sex hormones testosterone, progesterone, and oestrogen. It is an important component necessary for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, such as vitamins A, D, E, and K.

Rapidly lowered cholesterol levels are associated with emotional disorders like depression, anxiety, and panic attacks. Cholesterol clearly is an indispensable ingredient for life.

Illustration of cholesterol in the bloodstream. It is not all bad news where cholesterol is concerned. Cholesterol is an essential ingredient. Without it, the body simply cannot survive. (© Sophia Winters – Fotolia.com)

Illustration of cholesterol in the bloodstream. It is not all bad news where cholesterol is concerned. Cholesterol is an essential ingredient. Without it, the body simply cannot survive. (© Sophia Winters – Fotolia.com)

Good and bad
A lot of attention has been given to alleged good and bad cholesterol. This distinction in fact isn’t appropriate. There exists just one type of cholesterol.

For its transport within our bloodstream, cholesterol forms a connection with certain proteins. To put it simply: the protein LDL (low-density lipoprotein) helps cholesterol transport from the liver to other organs. During this transport the cholesterol may adhere to the walls of arteries and thus cause build ups. That’s where the designation “bad” cholesterol for this combination with LDL stems from.

The protein HDL (high-density lipoprotein) combines with cholesterol for its transport back to the liver. This combination is called “good” cholesterol, since HDL appears to be able to transport fat molecules out of artery walls and thus may help to prevent atherosclerosis. HDL particles transfer fats, including cholesterol, away from cells, artery walls, and tissues through the bloodstream.

But no unambiguous evidence exists that bad cholesterol increases the chance of a heart attack. Neither has been shown unequivocally that good cholesterol has a protective effect against cardiovascular disease.

HDL and LDL are proteins that bind with cholesterol for its transport. (© rob3000 – Fotolia.com)

HDL and LDL are proteins that bind with cholesterol for its transport. (© rob3000 – Fotolia.com)

No doubt exists though, that too high cholesterol levels are damaging to your health since they may cause silting up of the arteries.

Statins
Since so many people suffer high cholesterol levels, researchers have been looking frantically for drugs to remedy this malady. Statins block the production of cholesterol in the liver. Many statins are on the market nowadays. Pharmaceutical companies have done well out of them. In 2003, a statin became the best-selling pharmaceutical in history.

These days, millions and millions of people all over the world are being prescribed statins. It was even suggested everybody over 50 should take statins, just as a precaution. Fortunately, in the past years, more and more research is being published emphasising the negative side effects of statins.

Statins are not as effective nor as safe as we have been led to believe, conclude researchers in one of the most recent studies. They do produce a dramatic reduction in cholesterol levels, but this hasn’t led to a substantial decline in cardiovascular problems.

Statins turn out to have serious side effects, such as memory loss, increased rates of cancer, cataracts, musculoskeletal disorders, and impaired stem cell function. A US research project with 26.000 participants showed those taking statin drugs were 87% more likely to develop diabetes, apart from a 14% bigger chance of becoming overweight or obese since being on the drugs. The higher the dose of statins, the higher the risk.

Another study came up with an even more worrying result: statins accelerate the ageing process. This counteracts the fact that people start using statins in the first place because they want to live longer.

Exercise is the best and most healthy way to keep cholesterol in check.( © Simone van den Berg – Fotolia.com)

Exercise is the best and most healthy way to keep cholesterol in check. (© Simone van den Berg – Fotolia.com)

It is clear, the modest benefits statins may have are more than offset by their adverse effects. Avoid taking statins, is the message. It is far better to make lifestyle changes to lower your cholesterol level.

Try these beneficial strategies:

  • stop smoking
  • make sure your weight is within normale ranges
  • exercise
  • go for stress reduction.

Diet
The level of cholesterol is influenced by the fatty acids that enter the body via our food. We have to be careful with the amount of saturated fatty acids we ingest since they may elevate the cholesterol level in an undesired way. Products that contain saturated fatty acids are among other things animal fats and oils. So go easy on the cheese, egg yolks, beef, pork, and poultry.

Avocados contain phytosterols, cholesterol-like compounds that help reduce cholesterol level in the bloodstream. (© ARPORN SEEMAROJ – Fotolia.com)

Avocados contain phytosterols, cholesterol-like compounds that help reduce the cholesterol level in the bloodstream. (© ARPORN SEEMAROJ – Fotolia.com)

Also avoid trans-fatty acids as much as possible. They have been shown to reduce levels of HDL and increase levels of LDL. Trans-fatty acids abound in vegetable oils and in fried foods. Don’t indulge in cakes and cookies either since the baked goods industry uses a lot of partially hydrogenated oils which contain trans-fatty acids.

For healthy alternatives, look for plant-based products since they don’t hold significant amounts of cholesterol. Some plant products contain phytosterols. They are cholesterol-like compounds that help reduce the cholesterol level in the bloodstream. Phytosterols can be found in among other things avocados, flax seeds, and nuts.

Image

French fries © arska n – Fotolia.com

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: