Cholesterol, Fact or Fiction
With so much confusion from misunderstandings, over-simplified explanations and pseudo-science distributed throughout the media (often as marketing tactics and sales strategies) and publications regarding cholesterol, I believe by combining a logical understanding of physiology, chemistry and biochemistry, along with research and information from reliable, valid peer reviewed journals is necessary to separate facts from fiction for making better health choices. With September being National Cholesterol Education Month, I want to take the opportunity to bring into light some of the myths and misunderstandings surrounding cholesterol to help provide you with safer and healthier methods of maintaining health cholesterol levels.
After all the negative rap that has been created in the media and within sales and marketing ads about cholesterol, I feel that it only makes sense to dedicate this post to the valuable benefits of cholesterol. Let’s set the record straight and stop thinking in black and white by using connotations in association with cholesterol. There is only one cholesterol molecule – otherwise known biochemically as cholest-5-en-3β-ol. Despite what you may have heard there is no such thing as “good” or “bad” cholesterol, or at least “bad” cholesterol. Simply put, there just is cholesterol. And cholesterol is absolutely essential for the maintenance of health and life. It’s used in the body to produce bile acids which are essential for the digestion and absorption of fats and fat-soluble nutrients such as vitamin A, D, E and K. It is used to promote the proper fluidity and stability to each of the trillions of your cell membranes. Cholesterol is also used to produce a variety of your hormones (such as aldosterone, testosterone, estrogen, progesterone, and glucocorticoids) and nutrients such as vitamin D, squalene, co-enzyme Q10, etc. These nutrients in turn are used to carry out hundreds of other essential biological processes that take place in our body. After making this connection, it’s easy to understand why cholesterol is absolutely essential for your health. So if we are going to continue to use any connotation with cholesterol, it should be a positive word for the numerous health promoting functions that it serves. This is exactly why the body (mainly the liver, but also many other cells as well) produces so much of it.
So in cholesterol’s defense, though it may be a piece to the puzzle in the development of various forms of cardiovascular diseases, such as atherosclerosis, cholesterol is no more evil than the Sun is simply because solar radiation can generate free radicals that have been identified as pieces of the puzzle to the development of various forms of skin cancer. They both are essential for us to be alive.
The terms “good” or “bad” has more to do with the various levels of molecules known as lipoproteins, which play a role in transporting cholesterol through the bloodstream to and from different cells in the body. Blood levels of these various lipoproteins can vary and be influenced by a number of factors ranging from what we eat to the amount of stress, both physiological and psychological, we are exposed to. All of these factors have one major thing in common; they play significant roles in the amount of inflammation in the body.
There are much healtheir, and safer, alternative measures that a person can take in order to maintain healthy cholesterol and blood levels of the various lipoproteins rather than using a pharmaceutical drug or natural medicine that, for example, may play a role in inhibiting the body’s ability to sythesize cholesterol.
Anderson, C. S. & Cockayne, S. (2003) Clinical Chemistry: Concepts and Applications (pp. 181-190, 664-665). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill
Windmaier, E.P. & Raff, H. & Strang, K.T. (2006) Vander’s Human Physiology: The Mechanisms of Body Function – Tenth Edition (pp. 51-51, 347-349, 630-631). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill
Beers, M.H. (2003) The Merck Manual of Medical Information – Second Home Edition (pp. 197-202, 920-926). New York, NY: Pocket Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.