How can this be so? How can cholesterol be so important to our health and yet characterized as a “poison” by some? Well, the “they” who characterize cholesterol as “bad” (or “good” for that matter) may not realize just what cholesterol does in our bodies. We can produce cholesterol from carbohydrate, fat or protein! It is so important that the body can use various substrates to produce it, an almost sure guarantee that we won’t run out!
The basics of cholesterol
Let’s look at the basics of cholesterol, what it’s used for in our bodies. We are able to convert cholesterol into “vitamin” D, cortisol, vital hormones including DHEA, progesterone, testosterone and estrogen. Cholesterol is incorporated into our cell membranes and is one of the primary lipids in brain tissue! Does that sound like a poison to you?
I put “vitamin” D in quotes for emphasis and to get your attention. Vitamin D is actually a hormone, but that’s another lecture! In short, it is produced in one part of the body (the skin) with its actions elsewhere (GI tract, brain, and kidneys to name a few!) which is why it acts as a hormone instead of a vitamin. The point here is that it is produced basically from cholesterol, in the skin, in the presence of UV light from the sun. It then travels to the liver and kidneys where it becomes activated. We can make up to 10,000 units of vitamin D with 30 minutes or so in the sun. So in truth, we don’t really know what our dietary intake should be if we can’t get enough sunshine… again, topic for another lecture! Biochemically vitamin D is almost identical to cholesterol… now that is something to think about!
Good cholesterol? Bad cholesterol?
Cholesterol is cholesterol… there is no “good” or “bad” cholesterol, only healthy cholesterol and damaged or “oxidized” cholesterol. Some people call the cholesterol carried on the LDL carrier “bad” and the cholesterol carried on the HDL carrier “good” but this is not accurate. The LDL carrier is like a BUS, it drops cholesterol off where it is needed in the body. The HDL carrier is like a TAXI, it picks up stray cholesterol and brings it back to the liver (the “airport”) where it can be shipped out or recycled. Now, if you have alot of cholesterol floating around on your LDL carrier it is more prone to oxidation, Oxidation of cholesterol especially can occur if the LDL particles are the small, sticky kind. So really, the oxidized cholesterol is the only “bad guy.”
What can fight oxidation? Guess…. ANTIOXIDANTS! Especially vitamin C and full spectrum vitamin E (natural vitamin E is actually made up of 8 compounds, not just alpha tocopherol). As a matter of fact, ATHEROSCLEROSIS (“hardening of the arteries”) is known to be a sign of vitamin C deficiency. That fact comes straight from a basic college nutrition course. So atherosclerosis and heart disease are not “statin deficiency diseases.” In many cases they are nutrient deficiency diseases, compounded by too many oxidants and toxins in the air, water and food!. Statin drugs themselves are known to cause drug induced nutrient deficiencies. They actually block the production of a vital antioxidant in our bodies called Coenzyme Q10 or “ubiquinone.” Without CoQ10, your muscles, especially heart muscle, won’t have the energy to work properly. This could lead to congestive heart failure (CHF) ! So, obviously, we don’t want to have a CoQ10 defiency!
Cholesterol in food
What about cholesterol in food, you ask? Well, our bodies have a feedback loop… if we eat too much cholesterol, then our bodies will make less for the day. Now, granted some people have a genetic anomaly which prevents their feedback loop from working and they may need support to regulate cholesterol production. However, if statins are used for this purpose, then supplementation with CoQ10 is a must! Also, cholesterol comes only from animal based foods, which should be minimized in a healthy diet anyway, especially red meat. I advise people to forgo red meat and count on seafood and eggs as a high quality protein source. This really surprises people… eat more eggs? Yes, eat the yolk too.. that is where most of the micronutrients are, including choline which is so important to liver health and memory. Red meat, in fact, has been independently linked to increased cholesterol levels, as well as increased homocysteine levels and increased CRP levels, two independent risk factors for heart disease.