Our friend cholesterol?

As we all know, there has been long standing concern and confusion over the actual vs supposed health risk from high levels of cholesterol in the blood. Recently, it has been suggested that virtually all older persons should be on statin cholesterol-lowering drugs. (Which by the way are said to damage stem cells.) I worry that too often these discussions make it sound like cholesterol is an enemy. And they fail to mention why we have it to begin with. Therefore, I list the following just to provide some context for the debate which I guarantee will not end any time soon.

  • Big picture, nature’s original plan always makes sense. Why would we be given this waxy, fat-like substance in every cell of the body if it was designed to kill us?
  • About 75-80% of our blood cholesterol is made in the body…because we need it. If you eat cholesterol (e.g. in eggs), the body turns down its own production. Eating poorly (e.g. sugar and fake foods) can confuse the body into making too much cholesterol.
  • Cholesterol is required for us to make vitamin D.
  • We make hormones (including testosterone and estrogen) from cholesterol.
  • Cholesterol helps protect nerve fibers and is needed for proper brain function.
  • Bile that helps us digest fats is made from cholesterol. (Inadequate bile flow as one might have with gall bladder trouble or a low fiber diet is one reason for elevated cholesterol.)
  • Cell membranes depend on cholesterol. Membranes don’t just hold cells contents together. They also make sure that nutrients get in and wastes get out.
  • Cholesterol may be in the plaque in arteries because it is there to help repair damage. We need to be wary of things that damage arteries.

Sometimes I hear pronouncements that make it sound as though the “lower the cholesterol the better”. Given the important roles of cholesterol listed above, common sense says we would get in trouble if it is too low. In fact, with very low cholesterol there are more deaths from “all causes”, including cancer, violence, accidents, suicide (article) and even cardiovascular disease! Another study. Check this out: A study found that elderly folks with cholesterol lower than 189 had a doubled risk of dying early.

Cholesterol can irritate the lining of arteries when it becomes oxidized (e.g. rusty) due to either toxins or lack of protective antioxidants like vitamin E. Irritated arteries can build up plaque (which does contain cholesterol along with calcium.) Very high levels of cholesterol are associated with cardiovascular problems. That means they often appear together. However, the issue isn’t so black and white. I’m not sure it has been proven that the high levels themselves are the cause of the heart disease or have just become elevated in response to some other problem that also causes heart disease. 

6 Responses

  1. Tom M says:

    Hi Marty. The statement about all older people should be on statins makes me want to strangle someone. I got to thinking about all the insurance companies that jacked up their rates over the decades because they believed that people with higher cholesterol were a greater health risk. The main stream medical system in this country is a joke. It is all backwards and completely oriented toward keeping people sick and paying through the nose for ineffective and harmful drugs. It is amazing that you have been around for 20 years with your wonderful shows and information. Thanks.

    • healthybynature says:

      Tom, the system sure is broken when it comes to chronic disease. I’m not sure it is a conspiracy of greed per se or just the market at work. In any case, we have the ability to take action that prevents disease and keeps us out of the system. Thank you for the kind words.

  2. S. C. says:

    How do you raise cholesterol in a healthy manner?

    • healthybynature says:

      That is an interesting question. The HDL (supposedly good type) can be raised with exercise and maybe nutrients such as vitamin C and manganese. I’ve only been worried about cholesterol that was forced to be low with drugs. If total cholesterol is too low with a healthy HDL, causes could be low thyroid function, problems with the liver or adrenal glands. So, to make an educated guess about what to work on I’d have to know how low and have my health history form completed.

  3. I’ve heard you comment that giving blood is beneficial to counteract “rust” in your system. I’m a healthy 75 year old woman. Does that apply to me? In the past when I did give blood, I was shaky for several days after. What blood test should I have to determine if I have over mineralization?

    • healthybynature says:

      Women are somewhat less likely to have problems with iron that is too high because for so many years they were losing blood each month. Giving blood is a good way to lower levels that are too high, but it sounds like maybe you don’t have enough blood to share. The test to determine iron overload is Ferritin. Bill Sardi says that for health levels should be in the 20-70 range and to ignore the “normal” reference range on the lab report.

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