Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that’s found in all the cells of our body. It has a hormone-like structure that behaves like a fat in that it is insoluble in water and in blood.
80% of cholesterol in your body is produced in the liver in response to inflammation as a result of excess acidic waste products that build up on the exterior walls of the blood vessels. The liver makes 2 grams of cholesterol a day, more than 5 times the amount you could eat in a single day. The effect of your dietary cholesterol therefore is actually quite negligible.
There are two types of cholesterol, High-density lipoproteins (HDL) and Low-density lipoproteins (LDL). HDL is supposed to be the ‘good’ cholesterol and LDL the ‘bad’, but in fact this is not the case. All cholesterol is the same, it is just the transportation system that is different. Cholesterol travels through your bloodstream in small packages called “lipoproteins” which are made of lipids (fats) on the inside and proteins on the outside.
Cholesterol is simply a necessary ingredient that is required to be regularly delivered around the body for the efficient healthy development, maintenance, and functioning of our cells. Problems can occur, however, when the LDL particles are both tiny, and their carrying capacity outweighs the transportation potential of available HDL. This can result in more cholesterol being transported around the body with diminished resources for returning excess capacity to the liver.
Until the mid 80’s, the only treatment for ‘high cholesterol’ was niacin and vitamin B3, but with the proliferation of statin drugs in the late 80’s and into the 90’s, average cholesterol levels began to lower, so in part to justify the continued dependence on these patented drugs, the standard for cholesterol levels began to drop, first to 5.2 and then to 4.9 and now even lower.
Statins are one of the best ways for lowering cholesterol, if that is what you want to do, but they come with a list of side effects and studies show they deplete levels of Co-enzyme Q10 a vital nutrient without which the heart muscle would fail to work properly and you could end up with a heart attack!
A recent study published in the March 2015 journal Expert Review of Clinical Pharmacology indicated that statin drugs inhibit the biosynthesis of selenium containing proteins, one of which is glutathione peroxidase, a vital antioxidant, which serves to suppress peroxidative stress. A selenium deficiency can be a cause of congestive heart failure.
Realistically the average cholesterol level of around 5.2 is perfectly normal. 4.9 to 5.6 is the ideal range for most people, and as you get older your cholesterol level rises. If your cholesterol levels run too low, there is an increased risk of cardiovascular incidents, stroke, brain haemorrhage, Alzheimer’s and even cancer.
According to a study published in The American Heart Journal, half of all heart attack patients admitted to hospital had no previous symptoms and had normal cholesterol levels. Their first sign was a heart attack! If you think about it if everyone with high cholesterol levels had a heart attack the number of heart attacks would triple.
Also, did you know that your body actually needs cholesterol for a number of important bodily functions? It is actually a nutrient rather than a poison. It is both fuel for the brain and one of the primary building blocks for healthy hormone production of testosterone and oestrogen. It helps keep the cells of your body strong, it helps transport vitamins throughout your body and in nine separate studies there is confirmation that cholesterol is a necessary component in bodily homeostasis for cancer prevention.
A recent 2015 review published in the journal QJM: An International Journal of Medicine further challenges the prevailing myth that cholesterol is bad. The study showed that not only does cholesterol help protect against cancer, but not having enough can drastically increase one’s cancer risk.
So, if cholesterol is not the villain it has been made out to be what else can contribute to heart attacks?
There are 3 other factors that can have a bearing on your cardiovascular health and if you can help to control them you can boost your heart and prevent heart attacks and strokes.
a) High C-reactive Protein levels found in blood plasma in response to increased inflammation.
b) High Triglycerides that are the result of eating a meal high in calories or taking in lots of sugar. It is all converted into blood fats (triglycerides) by the body that can wreak havoc on your cardiovascular system and cause inflammation.
c) High homocysteine levels. This is an amino acid that is found in the blood and acquired mainly from the breakdown of other amino acids and eating meat. High levels of homocysteine in the blood can damage the arterial walls and lead to artherosclerosis and blood clots – more inflammation.
One of the researchers in the latest study on cholesterol said that altering your lifestyle is the single most important way to achieve a good quality of life.
According to recent research at Harvard, the primary causes of atherosclerosis are lesions and plaque in the arteries caused by sugar which causes insulin to be released. Insulin causes lesions in the endothelium of the arteries that become clogged with cholesterol. So, cholesterol gets the blame, but the real culprit is sugar and inflammation.
So reducing inflammation is the best way of preventing cardiovascular problems and here are some non-drug ways to help boost your heart health:-
- Cut out all processed grains and sugars from your diet. They are inflammatory foods!
- Eat lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, organic if possible and raw for a portion of them. Green vegetables make you alkaline and inflammation cannot exist in an alkaline medium, so lots of green vegetables.
- Make sure you are getting plenty of high-quality, animal-based omega-3 fatty acids, such as Eskimo 3. Research suggests that as little as 500 mg of omega-3 per day can help improve your total cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
- Take vitamin B6, B12 and Folic acid to reduce your homocysteine levels.
- Take a supplement of selenium.
- Replace harmful vegetable oils and synthetic trans fats with healthy saturated fats, like olive oil, butter, avocado, eggs and coconut oil. Only use olive oil cold, because it becomes rancid at too high a temperature, and use coconut oil for cooking and baking.
- Get out in the sun to optimise your vitamin D levels. Obviously you do not want to burn your skin but 15 minutes a day in the sun brings in your daily requirement of vitamin D. It plays a crucial role in preventing the formation of arterial plaque. In the winter a good supplement of vitamin D3 is essential.
- Exercise regularly to improve your heart function and fitness levels. The best form of exercise is high intensity interval exercises.
- Stop smoking and avoid excessive alcohol.
- Get plenty of good quality, restorative sleep.
- Practice regular stress-management techniques such as meditation, mindfulness, yoga and tai-chi.
- Clean your teeth regularly every day with a natural toothpaste, and make sure you have good probiotic to introduce good bacteria into the mouth and also to improve the immune system in the gut. Poor oral health plays a major role in heart disease.