10 Must-Know Facts About Cholesterol
One of the most important parts of maintaining healthy cholesterol is understanding how your body uses and manages this essential lipid. Why? Because having a cholesterol level that is too low is just as dangerous as having a cholesterol level that is too high. Most people don't realize it, but blindly following the cholesterol guidelines put forth by pharmaceutical companies (whose primary interest is to sell you their drugs, not to make you healthy) could put your long-term health in jeopardy.
To help you get some perspective on what constitutes a good cholesterol level, I've identified 10 vital facts about cholesterol in the body. Keep them in mind the next time your doctor raises the issue of reducing cholesterol, and make sure that any decision to do so is truly in your best interest (and if you must improve your numbers, opt for natural therapies such as a cholesterol lowering diet, as well as lifestyle changes and nutritional supplements that can help increase HDL cholesterol and reduce LDL cholesterol levels).
1) Cholesterol is a raw material made by your liver, brain, and almost every cell in your body. Enzymes convert it into vitamin D, steroid hormones (including the sex hormones estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone, and stress hormones), and bile salts needed for digesting and absorbing fats. Cholesterol is a major part of the membranes surrounding cells and the structures within them.
2) The body makes cholesterol as needed. When you eat more in your diet, the body makes less. If you eat less, the body makes more. On average, 85 percent of blood cholesterol is made in the body, and the rest comes from food.
3) You can have different levels of cholesterol at different times of the day.
4) Cholesterol tends to go up in the winter and down in the summer.
5) Cholesterol soars after any surgery, and it increases when you have an infection, mental stress, or have suffered a heart attack. The reason for this is that cholesterol is a healing agent needed to help create new cells, and it’s produced whenever healing is required. Your cholesterol level will also rise and fall depending on exposure to environmental agents and toxins.
6) When a doctor finds a high level of cholesterol, instead of reaching for the prescription pad, he or she should look for the reason the cholesterol is high and treat the cause. If the cause is successfully addressed, cholesterol often comes down.
7) It’s interesting to note that the herbs, antioxidants, and nutraceuticals that reduce cholesterol do so by neutralizing damaging agents in the blood stream. Thus, the liver doesn’t have to produce as much cholesterol. Moreover, the supplements support other biochemical processes necessary to heal wounds.
8) The endothelium is the razor-thin lining of blood vessels. The damaging agents we are exposed to—toxic chemicals, pathogens, free radicals, and inflammatory substances—wind up in our blood stream and damage this thin layer of cells. When this happens, the liver sends LDL to the site to make repairs. As the healing process concludes, the spent LDL particles are carried back to the liver by HDL and removed from the body.
9) The brain is particularly rich in cholesterol and accounts for about one-quarter of all the cholesterol we have. About 20 percent of the fatty myelin sheath that coats every nerve cell and fiber is made of cholesterol, and neuron function depends on it. It’s not surprising that a connection has been found between naturally occurring cholesterol and mental function, and that lower cholesterol levels are linked to poorer cognitive performance.
10) Some research suggests that doctors should be extremely cautious about prescribing statin drugs to the elderly, particularly those who are frail. I agree. I have seen frail individuals become even weaker and more prone to infections after taking these medications. Many of these patients later told me that their strength, energy, appetite, and vitality returned when they discontinued the statins. These folks clearly need their cholesterol—as do the very young.
For more information on cholesterol guidelines, visit www.drsinatra.com.
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Dr. Stephen Sinatra is a highly respected and sought-after cardiologist and nutritionist with more than 30 years of clinical practice, research, and study. His integrative approach to heart health focuses on reducing inflammation in the body and maximizing the heart's ability to produce and use energy. More About Dr. Sinatra
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