CHOLESTEROL: Friend or Foe?

 

In the past few years, cholesterol has been characterized as a sort of boogeyman. Everyone seems to “know” that it is bad for one’s health. What most people find surprising (and what most doctors have forgotten) is that cholesterol is absolutely essential to good health. Without adequate cholesterol, we cannot be healthy (yes, there actually is such a thing as cholesterol deficiency).

First of all, the majority of cholesterol in your bloodstream is manufactured by your liver, and is not the result of eating foods that contain cholesterol. Cholesterol is the basic building block of hormones including pregnenolone, DHEA, cortisol, estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone. Without adequate cholesterol, these cannot be manufactured in normal amounts.

 

Cholesterol is necessary for the formation of synapses (cellular connections) in the brain. This means cholesterol is necessary for memory, learning, and problem-solving. Cholesterol is also essential in the formation of the myelin that 'insulates' nerve fibers.

Cholesterol is also necessary for the formation of bile acids, which help break down fats in the digestive system. The body can, in the presence of sunlight, convert cholesterol to vitamin D.

The present 'wisdom' (or craze) in the pharmaceutically-driven healthcare profession is to lower cholesterol at all costs. Statin-type drugs are prescribed to most middle-aged and older patients. The patients who are probably experiencing a decline in hormones and a decline in memory are being given a drug to lower cholesterol, which in turn further lowers hormones and reduces memory!

In fact, low cholesterol problems are also statistically linked with increased risk of anxiety, depression, violent behavior, auto-immune conditions, autism, Alzheimer’s, etc.

It is true that a high total cholesterol/HDL ratio is statistically associated with increased cardiovascular risk. This is more of a low HDL problem than a 'high' cholesterol issue. So when you’re a young adult, the ratio of total cholesterol to HDL should be somewhere around 3:1. That’s considered the ideal ratio. Approximately one-third of the total cholesterol should be HDL. This means that even if a person’s total cholesterol is 240 (considered to be high) and the HDL is 80, the ratio is 3:1, and thus does not elevate cardiovascular risk!

Low HDL is commonly a result of chronic stress and worry. It can also be the result of sluggish thyroid function, low estrogen, high-carb and high-sugar diet, genetics, lack of exercise, liver dysfunction, and other factors.

It’s a complex and confusing subject to be sure, but just remember - you do need cholesterol.  In and of itself, cholesterol is not evil!